Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Differentiated Curriculum: What does it mean?

Beyond multiplication tables or the life cycles of frogs, beyond the dates of the Punic wars or the names of the Presidents, the most important thing that we can teach our children as home educators is how to think. Thinking is more than memorizing or reacting -- it's making and recognizing connections in the world. Applying this idea to that situation, translating this concept into that context: that's thinking.

Prufrock Press is a fantastic publisher of curricula and learning materials for gifted children. The most impressive thing about their programs, for me, is the emphasis on teaching the children how to think, encouraging them to make connections, and stretching ideas across the whole spectrum of learning to show them how everything is related, how one idea can apply to many situations.

A perfect example of this kind of teaching is the concept of "differentiated curriculum." What does this phrase mean? Each differentiated program takes one broad concept and applies it to many different situations and contexts across the curriculum. Science, art, literature, history, geography -- all are linked by a common conceptual element.

The unit we bought is called Structures, and it comes in three parts. Here's the description from the Prufrock Press web site:

The Earth is a solid structure on which we live, but it is not unchanging. Forces inside Earth constantly change both the inside and outside of the planet we call home. When students consider the concept of structures, they will discover that the word has many meanings. The Structures Differentiated Curriculum Kit provides exciting activities to help students discover the structures that exist all around them.

The books in Prufrock’s new Differentiated Curriculum Kits employ a differentiated, integrated curriculum based on broad themes. This all-in-one curriculum helps teachers save planning time, ensure compliance with national standards, and most importantly, pique their students’ natural excitement and interest in discovery. By participating in the wide variety of activities in the Differentiated Curriculum Kit for Grade 5, students will discover the structures around them and gain a lifelong desire to learn.

Structures Book 1: Geology, Expansion, and the Arts, students will learn that structures can be physical, natural, symbolic, and metaphoric. Students will explore natural bridges, earthquakes, erosion, Westward expansion, the Industrial Revolution, and more. In Structures Book 2: Cultures, Geometry, and Energy, students will explore the origins of popular nursery rhymes, racial barriers, and geometry and architecture. In Structures Book 3: Government, Cycles, and Physics, students will study cycles in time, business, monetary value, electricity, and magenetisim. Each book contains detailed lesson plans, reproducible activity sheets, and assessment tools.

Other books in the series include Systems, Cycles, Frontiers, and more. Here's a link to the page with all the differentiated curriculum. If you're like me, the very idea sets your brain to popping -- what poem, scientific concept, historical event, geographical phenomenon, piece of art, and political system could be linked with the idea of "cycles"? The whole concept of this curriculum is just magical to me, and it seems like an ideal, perfect, absolutely exciting way to engage a child over the summer, or as part of a really cool, integrated year of homeschooling.

Note: There are a lot of assessment materials and reproducible pages -- which makes it seem like it is more intended for classroom use. This would make the material perfect for use in a co-op or a group of friends all learning together. Ancillary materials are used a lot -- books from the library, or stuff you may have in your homeschooling library, to introduce the scientific and historical stuff.

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