By Jamie Grimm
Sex ed. It's a popular topic in our society with strong opinions on what, where, and when it should be taught to young people. Most of the voices in these conversations are from adults. Rarely do we hear from the population that is most impacted by the decisions we make. In the fall of 2021, we decided to change this problem and develop a class for high school students to help us revise their sexual health education curriculum. This post will share the successes and challenges of utilizing students to help lead the work of revising curriculum at a district level.
With the help of counselors, SELS, schedulers, and science teachers, we recruited thirteen students from five high schools to participate in the Healthy Decision Making Leadership course. The course was run through Jeffco Virtual Academy as a .5 Leadership elective. Students met every other week in the evening with the Health Science Coordinator (the subsequent author of the unit), and Jaime Brenner, a social and emotional learning specialist from Alameda International Jr/Sr High School. The students had work outside of class that they had to complete each week as well.
Representation of student voices is incredibly meaningful. However, in order for students to have an impactful presence, they first needed to understand that curriculum is developed through the use of state standards, and in our case, state law. Having this background information and understanding helped students to better create validity to their revision suggestions.
Once students had a better understanding of what needed to be taught within sexual health education, their next hurdle was to develop student-centered activities to address the content. Through the use of student and teacher surveys, focus groups, and their own lived experiences, the students created and or revised existing activities that were relevant to their lives. Each of the ten lessons within the curriculum has a student-centered activity that was either created or revised by the students. This was the major focus of the course and took the most amount of time.
As most can imagine, bringing together students from different high schools, backgrounds, and experiences to revise a sexual health education curriculum can be, initially, really awkward! During the first couple of group meetings there was a lot of silence from the students and probing from the instructors. However, through team building exercises, laughter, and small group discussions, the students really emerged from their shells. The result was a group of students that knew their classmates were respectful, trustworthy, kind, and fierce advocates for the work.
Not only did we have a group of students that became leaders in the work, but we now have a curriculum that is incredibly student-centered, culturally relevant, and meaningful for the population that we seek to educate.
With any new endeavor there will be unanticipated setbacks. As most educators, we envision a lesson or training to go exactly how we have planned, only to realize that the best laid plans often go awry. The two biggest challenges I had was holding students accountable for their work outside of class, and being okay with changing my original expectations about what I wanted to accomplish during the course. If I was to host this course again, I would develop a better system for students to check-in with me about their progress. I think this would hold them more accountable, but also allow me to build better relationships with the students on an individual basis. Some of our students were not always comfortable sharing their opinions during whole group discussions, but when they were in a small group or one-on-one situation, they had a lot more to say.
I quickly learned that students in this class were way more involved in the work if it was through whole group or small group discussions. This was not what I had planned for each of my lessons! Therefore, in the future I would definitely build in more time for collaboration and group discussions. After a couple years of quiet students on a Zoom screen, the in-person group discussions were a very welcomed change!
Young people are incredibly knowledgeable and motivated to become agents of change. We must not use them merely as an act of tokenism, but rather a group of individuals with the foresight to recognize the challenges they will face in their present and future lives.
My last piece of advice for anyone who chooses to involve students in curriculum revisions/developments is to “feed them”. Feed them food each time you meet (quite literally…they’re always hungry) and feed them opportunities to be impactful within their community!
By Toni Bower
The philosophy of disciplinary literacy has been around for many years. The idea and practices might not have been elevated as much as they could have been. Have you heard, “Every teacher teaches reading and writing?” This is NOT disciplinary literacy. Let’s shift this thinking to “Every teacher teaches literacy skills essential to their discipline.” Our students deserve the reinforcement of the literacy skills and instructional practices that support their access to discipline-specific content and ability to be successful in learning across their day. We know that literacy happens in each and every content, but how are students accessing the information? How are they communicating it? How are they “thinking” in the various content classrooms? We want our students to participate alongside their teachers and with their peers, and not as observers.
There are some content literacy skills that classrooms use but there are also discipline-specific literacies too. This chart from Lent & Voigt separates some literacy skills illustrating the differences.
Disciplinary literacy lifts the discipline/content first and then incorporates the literacy skills through the lens of the discipline. Content literacies/ interdisciplinary literacy uses the literacy skills (taught in ELA classrooms) and brings them across all classrooms. For the most part, the skill looks the same across the disciplines (with very minor tweaks).
Currently there are several middle schools learning together through a leader group and taking the work back to their classrooms and teams. Professional development opportunities were provided for secondary instructional coaches around using MAP data in all content areas to better build understanding on students' proficiency levels in literacy and how to adapt classroom instructional practices to support all students. Additional professional development was shared with our new secondary teachers around using “Talk Moves” in all content areas to help students engage and use deeper thinking in the disciplines.
If you have any questions, want more information, or want to collaborate on professional learning or other opportunities for you, your teachers, or your students, please contact Toni Bower. firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Heather Waldron
STEM skills are becoming increasingly important in a variety of fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for STEM occupations in the U.S. is more than twice that of non-STEM occupations and STEM Occupations are projected to grow by 8.0 % between 2019 and 2029, compared with 3.4% projected growth for non-STEM occupations. Additionally, the Colorado Talent Pipeline reports the majority of the top 10 highest growing occupations in the Denver Metro area are STEM-aligned careers, from IT, to Statisticians, to veterinarians; our students will need STEM knowledge and skills to fill these projected openings. Jeffco students have the potential to solve the world's greatest and most complex problems, and a high quality STEM education will allow them to develop the knowledge and skills to turn those ideas into reality.
Jeffco Schools currently offers numerous STEM programs for students throughout our district. Some are vendor specific, such as Creative Learning Systems or Project Lead the Way, however many are teacher developed programs that pull together a variety of resources. The common thread across all STEM programs should be the emphasis on transferable STEM specific skills such as defining problems and designing solutions. (See STEM Skills in Figure 1). These unifying STEM skills have been taken from Next Generation Science Standards Science and Engineering Practices. They are applicable across STEM careers, intersect with core content, and are directly aligned to state legislation allowing for a STEM Endorsed Diploma upon high school graduation.
Figure 1: Transferable STEM skills (see NGSS SEPs) apply to a variety of STEM-Aligned Career Pathways.
STEM content and skills are emphasized for students PK-12 in core content courses through inquiry and phenomena-based science, complex tasks in mathematics that emphasize standards of mathematical practice, and computer science and engineering design integration across disciplines. In addition to core content, secondary students have the opportunity to engage in industry aligned career pathways that develop the academic, technical, and professional skills necessary for a successful future in STEM.
Figure 2: K-12 progression of STEM programming
For questions or support please contact Jeffco STEM Coordinator, Heather Waldron.
By Megan Motley
Call me a millennial, but if we chat long enough, I will inevitably insert “I heard about that on a podcast” into our conversation. According to the Pew Research Center, I’m not alone; in 2021, 41% of Americans ages 12 or older have listened to a podcast in the past month, up from just 9% in 2008. Secondary students listen even more than the average American, with 48% of students aged 13-17 reporting listening to a podcast in 2020 according to a study by Marie Götting.
This relatively new form of media offers a dynamic way for students to learn as listeners and creators.
I loved listening to podcasts with my students because of the flexibility of the genre and its use in the classroom. Want to provide background before starting a new unit in science? Check out “How Galaxies Work” by Stuff You Should Know. Debating the inherent selfishness or selflessness of humans as you read Lord of the Flies? Listen to this real life example of challenged humanity from The Science of Survival: “The Everest Effect.” Need to show students how to approach a controversial topic in a nuanced way? “30-50 Feral Hogs” by ReplyAll begins with a question about gun control and ends in Texas investigating a feral hog infestation. No matter what you’re studying next: there’s a podcast for that.
The flexibility doesn’t end with content. How you use them in the classroom is up to you and the needs of your students. Listen together so you can pause, question, and discuss, offer an episode as an alternative to reading the textbook to gain background knowledge, link a podcast on a choice board, add an episode to stations…. When it comes to listening, flexibility and differentiation are the name of the game for you and your students.
A note before you press play: while listening is in the Colorado State Standards, it is rare that we ask students to learn exclusively through audio. They are familiar with following along during a read aloud, watching a video, or looking at slides during a lecture. Scaffold their listening comprehension accordingly with graphic organizers, time to pause and process, and the option to go back and relisten if necessary.
One of Jeffco’s tier one tech tools is an audio recording program called Soundtrap. In my experience, secondary students need very little technical assistance in getting started recording with Soundtrap. Unlike many things in the classroom, you don’t need to be an expert in this program before bringing it to your students; if students run into technical problems, both Soundtrap for Education and the Jeffco Ed Tech team provide tutorials and support.
Like listening, recording podcasts lends significant flexibility in content, purpose, and differentiation. In my classroom, students worked in groups to research, write, and record a podcast about a moment in American history as their first semester final. The cumulative project took weeks and gave me the chance to assess a wide range of skills students had been practicing all semester. During finals week, rather than take a test, we had a podcast party and listened to everyone’s recordings. Listening to the podcasts in class meant that students were each other’s audience and that I didn’t have to bring a stack of essays home to grade at the end of the semester (win-win!). Every year I looked forward to the creative ways that my students would incorporate their research, music they composed, primary source audio, and synthesis into their podcasts.
Podcast recording does not have to be a giant summative project. Students can record one minute book reports or reviews, explanations of concepts to share for class-wide study materials, PSAs as formative practice for argumentative writing… No matter what you’re studying next: there’s a podcast waiting to be made for that.
If you want to learn more about creating or listening to podcasts in your classroom, contact your secondary ELA TOSAs, Megan Motley and Robyn Kehoe Ramsey. We are excited to support you and your students in exploring this dynamic text type.
Curriculum & Instruction