What Is a Curriculum and How Do You Make One?
Any new CTE teacher has a lot to learn when transitioning from a career in the industry.
You know the concepts and knowledge, but it can be tough to feel comfortable when you didn't learn the basics of being a teacher in the traditional sense.
As a CTE curriculum developer, we've heard that new CTE teachers are often unaware of what certain words or phrases in the educational space mean.
One of the most common terms that can cause confusion for new teachers is the word "curriculum."
"Curriculum" can mean a lot of different things to different people involved in education.
Teachers may use the term “curriculum” to refer to the information they teach throughout a class.
Teachers may also search the Internet or ask their colleagues for “more curriculum,” which means the teacher is looking for more resources to use in a classroom setting.
Finally, a school, institution, or district can refer to their standards or class sequence as “curriculum.”
All of these variations makes it difficult to know what a curriculum really is.
In this article, we'll explore the standard definition of "curriculum" and how to create a curriculum on your own.
You'll also discover how a digital curriculum can make your life easier as a new teacher.
The Definition of Curriculum
A curriculum is a collection of lessons, assessments, and other academic content that’s taught in a school, program, or class by a teacher.
With that in mind, a standard curriculum typically consists of the following parts:
- Purpose Statement: What will this curriculum achieve?
- Outcome Statement: What will students be able to do with this information?
- Essential Resources: What will you use to teach your class and what will students use to learn?
- Strategy Framework: What teaching approach will you use?
- Verification Method: How will you know that you’re effectively teaching?
- Standards Alignment: How well do you adhere to federal, state, and school standards for your course?
- Course Syllabus: What will you teach and when?
- Capstone Project: What final accomplishment will your students use to prove what they’ve learned in your class?
Now that you know what a curriculum is, let's dive into how you can create each part of it.
1. Purpose Statement
The first part of a well-made curriculum is a statement of its purpose.
A purpose statement is a brief explanation of the need that your class fulfills at your school, community, or education as a whole.
Purpose statements work best when they’re simple. As the old adage suggests, the best ideas are the ones that you can express in a single sentence.
Whether you need one sentence or five, it’s important to keep your purpose statement concise for the sake of your colleagues, administrators, or even classroom evaluators.
If you’re having a hard time wording your purpose statement, you can try answering a handful of questions to get started:
- Why do students need to know the information in your class?
- How will your class prepare students for their futures?
- What makes your class different from other classes in your school?
Answering any of the above questions (or all of them) will at least help you discover your purpose statement, if not write it completely.
For example, students may need the information in your class on soft skills so they can practice career essentials.
That’ll impact their future ability to earn and maintain a job.
Then, once you have your purpose statement, you can move onto the next important statement!
2. Outcome Statement
An outcome statement is an official list of the goals you have for students who take your class.
Outcome statements are similar to purpose statements in that they convey why your class is important.
However, outcome statements are different because they focus on what you want students to know after the class concludes.
For example, you may pioneer a digital literacy class in your middle school. Your outcome statement — and the goals you have for your students — could include:
- Demonstrating safe use of online resources
- Identifying whether an online source is trustworthy
- Committing to stand against the epidemic of cyberbullying
It’s important to note that these goals are all in addition to the grades you’d give in any other typical class.
Students will still have to complete lessons, homework, formative assessments, summative assessments, and other projects that are graded.
But that’s standard for any class! As a result, you don’t need to say you’ll use “grades” as a measure of whether students have met your class’s goals.
Instead, your goals should be directly related to your class, how it functions, and how your students’ lives will improve as a result.
Once you have your outcome statement down on paper, it’s time to start thinking about your class’s details!
3. Essential Resources
Your class’s essential resources include anything you need for your students to teach everything in your class.
For traditional classrooms, this section of the curriculum is easier than others because it includes a short list of textbooks, notebooks, and maybe writing utensils.
For modern classrooms, this list can get surprisingly long — sometimes with dozens of items!
That’s because modern classrooms have a demand for teaching the same material in multiple ways. This allows teachers to accommodate students who learn differently without leaving any of them behind the rest of the class.
In addition to simple notebooks, textbooks, and writing utensils, you may also discover that you need:
- Internet access
- Visual aids
- Interactive screens / Smartboards
- Game materials
- Other rooms in your school
This is just a sample listing — you may discover that you need more classroom materials as you develop your curriculum!
There’s nothing wrong with that. If you only have a rough idea of the teaching resources you’ll need for a class, you can always come back to this section after you complete the rest of your curriculum.
Once you’ve completed this section, it’s time to discuss how you’ll teach your class!
4. Strategy Framework
Your strategy framework shows the different teaching methods you’ll use to help your students learn.
Some of the most common strategy frameworks and teaching strategies include:
- Online learning
- Blended learning
- Cooperative learning
- Differentiated instruction
We’ll start with the oldest and most well-known form of education in the world — lecture.
Every teacher has experienced (and probably delivered) lectures.
Lectures commonly take the form of an educator standing in front of their students and delivering information orally.
Teachers may choose to use visual aids like whiteboards, chalkboards, smartboards, or demonstration materials, but these resources all revolve around the lecture itself.
Lectures are considered the standard in education because they’ve been used since before Socrates. Essentially, it’s the classical way to teach students of any age.
But there’s an issue with that — students today use much more advanced technology than the students of Ancient Greece.
As a result, lectures aren’t always the best course of action for a modern classroom.
Fortunately, modern technology offers you a lot of alternatives — including online learning.
Online learning means you’re using education tools that exist on the Internet to help teach your students.
Sometimes, these tools are called “cloud-based” education solutions because they’re accessible 24/7 from your web browser.
Online learning is a great way to reach students who are both experts and amateurs when it comes to using technology.
That’s because these online tools are designed to be as simple as possible while offering an outstanding educational experience.
Online learning works great for delivering videos, graphics, activities, self-paced lessons, and other teaching resources into a classroom.
Online learning is also a cornerstone teaching strategy in a larger educational concept — blended learning.
Blended learning is the practice of using multiple teaching strategies in a single class.
So when you use lecture, online learning, and textbooks to teach your students, you’re technically teaching with blended learning!
Blended learning is an effective education strategy because it teaches students the same information in multiple ways.
Some students are auditory learners. Others are visual learners. Still others are hands-on learners!
By practicing blended learning, you acknowledge these differences in your students’ learning preferences and create ways to help all of your students learn.
That way, you don’t leave any of your students behind!
You can even go the extra mile with blended learning and include a highly-specialized form of teaching that also allows your students to socialize with one another.
This strategy is called cooperative learning!
Cooperative learning is the practice of creating small groups of students in your class and having them teach one another.
The core of cooperative learning is based on trust and accountability. Students learn different parts of a large concept and teach that information to one another.
That way, every student gets a strong idea of a concept while meeting and interacting with their peers.
At the end of a cooperative learning session, it’s important for you to pull your entire class back together to talk about what they learned.
As the different groups speak, you can correct any misinformation that different students may have acquired.
Altogether, you just helped your students learn a new concept while meeting one another and taking responsibility for a portion of their education!
This kind of work can also be helpful if you want to use our next teaching strategy — differentiated instruction.
Differentiated instruction means tailoring your teaching strategy to students’ individual learning needs.
Differentiated instruction is often used interchangeably with the concept of an individualized education plan (IEP).
In a nutshell, this means you reach out to students based on how they learn best.
So if they retain information best while using a computer, you have a student use a computer to learn the same material that you lecture to the rest of the class.
For students who learn better by reading, you can print out pages related to your lesson.
You can even seek out (or create) games that help students learn in an increasingly-popular process called gamification.
Gamification is the process of taking your classroom materials, turning them into a contest of some kind, and having students participate according to a set of rules.
One of the most commonly-used gamification methods is a simple Jeopardy game where students or teams get points by answering questions correctly.
Math teachers may play “around the world” with flash cards in their classes. Health science teachers may create a game around building a skeleton for human anatomy and physiology.
Regardless of how you choose to help students learn, gamification is proven to improve long-term information retention in students of any age.
It’s just another fun way to add variety to your classroom!
At the end of the day, all of these teaching strategies can help your students learn.
When you choose your method (or methods), there’s another crucial component to your curriculum that you need.
You need to figure out how you’ll verify that your students are learning!
5. Verification Method
Your verification method tells administrators, colleagues, and even parents how you’ll measure success in your classroom.
You have dozens of options when it comes to figuring out how you want to gauge student progress in your classroom.
However, two methods stick out above all of the others in terms of effectiveness and popularity.
These two methods are called formative assessments and summative assessments.
Here’s how they work!
Video: Formative vs. Summative Assessments
Formative assessments work best when you use them to evaluate how much (or how well) a student is learning in a class. You’re examining how well students are “forming” information and connections in their brains.
Formative assessments are great because they let you see how well your students learn without grading them for every single assignment they complete.
You can have a lot of fun with formative assessments too! Because they’re not always graded, formative assessments can go in almost any direction, including:
- Group activities
The main goal of formative assessments is understanding what your students do and don’t know.
This gives you essential information to incorporate in review activities when you get closer to the end of a unit or marking period.
If most of your students struggle with a certain topic, you know you have to go over it with students before the class ends.
If one or two students struggle, then you can approach them on an individual basis to customize a remediation plan for them.
Then, whenever you conclude a major portion of your class, you can use a summative assessment to see what students have learned!
Summative assessments work best when you use them to evaluate what a student has learned in a class. You’re testing the “summary” of all information that students have learned throughout a unit or marking period.
Summative assessments tend to be more rigid when it comes to your options because they require objective criteria for you to grade.
As a result, teachers use summative assessments like:
- Final exams
- Written reports
- Essays / papers
- End-of-class projects
All of these summative assessment options come with answer keys or grading rubrics for the sake of quantifying what students have learned in your class.
These grades are often weighed more heavily in comparison to other factors like classroom participation and homework.
In many classes, students don’t pass the course unless they get a satisfactory mark on their summative assessments.
Naturally, it’s up to you to determine how much you want to weigh these assessments. The most important part of summative assessments is a clear vision into what your students have learned.
This is especially important if you work in a state that has a lot of standards and requirements for classes you teach!
6. Standards Alignment
Your alignment with existing standards ensures that you’re teaching your students the proper information to help them succeed in life.
Most of the time, you’ll get a list of standards from your state department of education to guide you in the information they’re supposed to teach students.
This information varies from state to state since public education is so heavily based on the state level.
You may also get a list of standards from your district or even your immediate supervisor that ensures you teach the same information as a teacher in another school.
Overall, standards ensure a degree of uniformity in curriculum for important topics.
That’s why so many health science and computer applications classes have strict standards — every class in the state needs to teach the same fundamental information for students to succeed later in life!
If you’re having a hard time finding your state, district, or school standards, check first with your immediate supervisor.
If that doesn’t work, you can always ask your colleagues or contact your district office.
Finally, if you’re looking for more insight into how you can meet your state’s standards, you can try looking into social media groups like the AES Educator Community for advice from your peers.
Once you’ve found your standards, it’s time to map your curriculum to those standards so you ensure you’re teaching the information that’s required.
Curriculum maps are tricky to create, if you’ve never made one before. It’s phenomenally helpful for most teachers because a curriculum map shows you exactly what you need to teach, when, and the materials you need to teach it.
In other words, a curriculum map makes your upcoming marking period easier!
Once you have your curriculum mapped to your standards, it’s finally time to jump into what you’ll teach in your class by creating your course syllabus.
7. Course Syllabus
Your course syllabus tells your administrators, colleagues, and students about the specific information you’ll teach your class.
A syllabus is typically an extensive document, detailing each lesson to be taught, the day on which lessons will be taught, the homework to be assigned, and the expectations of students at the end of each unit.
As a result, the syllabus is the area where most teachers spend the bulk of their time in planning. It takes a lot of time and energy to create a document that showcases exactly how your class will work day by day.
This is even more stressful if you teach a semester- or year-long course that covers a wealth of information.
If you’ve never created a full syllabus before, check with a peer, mentor, or supervisor to see if they have a template you can use.
If that’s not available, you can always check out resources like Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) for their syllabus templates.
Before you finish your syllabus, you have one exceptionally important part of your curriculum to flesh out in extreme detail.
That’s because the final part of a curriculum is designed to challenge your students and drive home the point of your entire class in one fell swoop.
You have to decide on your capstone project!
8. Capstone Project
Your capstone project is the final assessment of your class that you use to gauge how much students have learned throughout the marking period.
The most common capstone project is a cumulative final exam. Other options include certification exams, presentations, and graded projects.
The most important part of your capstone project is the explanation of why this project proves a student’s learning progress in a class.
What is the quantifiable metric you’ll use to gauge whether your students have learned?
When that metric is applied to your capstone project, why are you confident that your students have succeeded in their learning goals?
Those questions are all great to answer in your curriculum, and they give your administrator and students an excellent insight into the culmination of your course.
With your capstone project detailed in the final portion of your curriculum, you can take a breath.
That all probably took you a long time if you did it by hand.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a faster way?
Digital Curriculum: The Modern Way to Teach
You’ve read about a standard curriculum. It’s a standard and effective way of showing why your class is important and what students will learn in it.
But it takes so long to create — especially the syllabus and capstone project!
If you want to shave hours off of that process, digital curriculum is your solution!
A digital curriculum is an online tool that helps you plan, teach, and assess your students all from one convenient system.
With it, you can create classes, map out your marking periods, engage students with activities, and show pre-made lessons that align to state standards.
Best of all, you get hundreds of curriculum hours of content to fill the classes you need to teach!
Want to learn more? Download this free eBook to discover if digital curriculum is a good fit for your classes: