Kids Co-Creating Curriculum

Students can co-create curriculum and their classrooms with teachers for powerful learning experiences. Learn how students are teaching each other drone piloting and other examples from Albemarle County, Virginia with Superintendent Pam Moran.

Jennifer Gonzalez has released her 2018 Teachers Guide to Technology with over 200 education technology tools including tools for assessment, flipped learning, presentations, parent engagement, video engagement and more. Jennifer gives you a description in simple language, a screenshot of the tool in action and then a play button that takes you to a video about how the tool works. Learn more at

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Kids Co-Creating Curriculum

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Date: January 29, 2018

We Don't Have To Choose Between Assessment and Excellent Teaching

Vicki: Well, I have to tell you this, Pam. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since you and I met, but just how much you shaped me and understanding that we can have educational excellence and less testing.

Pam: Yes.

Vicki: We don’t have to give up rigor. We don’t have to give up challenging and helping kids think. You don’t have to choose! You don’t have to choose — testing or education. I mean, you can have a great education and some tests, but tests don’t have to be everything.

Pam: Probably. That’s right. The assessment piece is important for kids.

Kids Helping Design the Curriculum

I love that we are seeing more and more engagement of our kids in things. This kind of fascinates me is watching kids want to jump in and help design curriculum. We’ve had some kids in the county that have co-created curriculum with teachers around things that are of interest to them, such as how to create music in a sound studio, and building an elective for that.

Drones in the Classroom

I was over in one of the elementary schools the other day, and three years ago we were all in awe and kind of gaga about a high school student who was all in with drones, and sort of building and flying, and learning about aviation and drones with his high school peers. Then he moved it down to middle school.

He’s actually been back, He’s taking a gap year. He actually ran for school board. He’s now going back and teaching some middle schoolers aviation, as kind of a volunteer teacher. But I was in an elementary school, and two teachers in this multiage space that we have, had decided that rather than spending the money that they had already spent on supplies this year — they said, “We have plenty of supplies, markers and this and that,” — they decided to buy a drone for the class.

Vicki: Ohhhh!

Pam: Teacher. Amazingly said, “See these two kids over here? Those are the drone pilots. And their job is to teach all the other kids how to fly this drone.”

So I’m talking to these two kids, and they want to take me outside and show me how they’re able to fly this drone. They show me. They have developed their own little curriculum, and their assessment for learning to use the drone. And they have a place where kids can sign up for class with them, five at a time.

Vicki: Wow.

Pam: This other little kid comes over and says, “Hey, can I go outside? I want to see what you’re doing.”

I said to the two kids, “Well, I thought that you were the two that really…”

And they said, “No, he’s had his private lesson. He’s good.”

So the three of them take me out. But I’m thinking to myself about, “How did kids become — because of the tools and because of teachers who empower them to be a part of the process of teaching and learning — see themselves as helping to co-create curriculum, assessments?

Student-Led Conferencing

Some of our most amazing feedback I get from parents are in some of our schools that have really embraced student-led conferencing, where the parents come in, and the kids are literally — they have developed their portfolios — and they’re taking the parents through their learning work for the recent period of time. The kids are doing that. The teachers are kind of observing, and they’re there in support, but they’re not the show. The kids are the show.

Student Portfolios with SeeSaw

Today I was in a school that’s using Seesaw. The kids pick things that they want to share with their parents. This little girl showed me some math work that she had done, and they’d snapshot it and were sending it to the parent. She’d written underneath it, “Mom, I did this myself!”

Vicki: Ohhhh!

Pam: And I’m thinking that as kids become more empowered to see themselves not just as learners, but also as teachers in the process, that what we’re going to see is an incredibly different kind of commitment to what it means to be a learner when you own it, and you have a sense of agency that’s not agency by proxy where you’re relying on somebody else to give you agency, but it’s happening because you own your own agency.

A Next Generation Shift

So I think that’s kind of cool. I have a saying, “That’s something that I would be foreshadowing as a next generation shift”. I’d love to see that as something that we really support up teachers to develop. One of the things that I think that, Vicki, that teachers have to do, which I know that you do, and I see the work that you’ve done with kids — and that is, you have to give up control as the adult.

Vicki: Oh, yeah.

Pam: And shift that sense of power from the adult to the student as a learner, in order to get that sort of a deep commitment. For kids to actually see that learning is something that’s important for the sake of learning, not just because they’re doing it for somebody else’s purpose or benefit. So, you know, I’m kind of excited about that.

Vicki: I love this whole idea of a student-led — not learning, but student-led teaching.

Pam: Yes! Isn’t that cool? And you know, I see that all over with what I call — it’s almost like a pop-up mentality. Sometimes I’ll walk in, and I discover a teacher that I wasn’t even aware of in the system — because we’ve got, you know, over 1200 teachers in Albemarle.

And I’ll run into somebody that is maybe newer on the scene. Like a young guy that is in one of our high schools who is a career-switcher. He’s probably like 30-something. I think somebody told me he was actually involved in a brewery before he became a teacher…

Vicki: (laughs)

Pam: … which I think is probably not a bad thing.

Vicki: No.

Student Bee Keepers

Pam: But his kids… he teaches an environmental course. His kids and he, they decided that they wanted to put in beehives. The next thing I know, we’ve got beehives going in, in this school. The kids are using it as both science as well as entrepreneurship. I’m over there, and these kids are teaching me. They put me in the white suit. They open up the hives. They’re showing me everything.

And they’re putting arduino-powered probes in there so that they can really monitor some things that would be data inputs that they’re going to take a look at. What happens over the year in terms of temperatures inside the hives What are some of the other variables that are important for them to take a look at? And you know, the next thing I know, they’re in front of the school board giving the school board pints of honey that they’ve already been able to pull out of their hives, which was kind of remarkable.

So you know, I think those kids become not just learners in a classroom, where they’re moving through standards, heading toward a test, but they’re becoming a part of the learning process — both as teacher and as learner. And that — you know, there are adults who are going to them now and saying, “Hey, I want you to tell me about this. I want to learn about this. What can I do if I want to put hives in, myself?” So, you know, it’s kind of cool to see, just, you know, what happens when you just let go of the control.

Vicki: Yeah.

Pam: Let the kids work. Their interest and their enthusiastic curiosities kind of take us and push us down the stream, versus us trying to pull them behind them down the stream. So it’s kind of cool!

Stay Tuned next week for the final episode in the series.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Pam Moran – Bio as submitted

Dr. Pamela R. Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.

During Dr. Moran’s tenure, Albemarle County Public Schools has become one of the top performing school divisions for students in the state with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent. Two out of every three high school seniors graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma, 30 percent higher than the state average for all school divisions. In 2014, Albemarle County students had the second highest SAT scores among 133 school divisions in Virginia in critical reading and the third highest SAT scores for writing and math.

In 2015, a national survey organization ranked Albemarle County Public Schools in the top five of all school divisions in Virginia and among the top two percent of all school divisions in the county.

Among the school division’s flagship programs are its Learning Commons, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) and M-Cubed. Both the Learning Commons and M-Cubed have received the National School Board Association’s Magna Award, given annually to the school division in the nation with the most innovative and effective program. The school division is the only one in the history of the Magna Award to twice receive the association’s highest performance honor. The school’s Learning Commons, which is a multi-disciplined, technology-infused learning center, has attracted visits by MIT, Harvard, the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina and from the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science. M-Cubed is a program that supports black middle school males in year-round advanced math studies to improve their high school academic performance. The division’s Jack Jouett Middle School is in the top three percent of all schools in the world for the success of its AVID college and career readiness program.

A key component of the division’s project-based instructional model is its maker curriculum, which has been the subject of presentations by division educators around the country, including at the White House. In 2015, in partnership with two other school divisions and the University of Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools was one of three public school divisions in the nation to receive an Investing in Innovation demonstration grant. The $3.4 million federal grant is being used to develop advanced manufacturing and engineering programs in division middle schools and is in addition to a $20,000 state planning grant to develop a “school-of-the-future” model.

The division has three centers of excellence. Students in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy earn an average of $24,000 per student in academic scholarships; the Health and Medical Sciences Academy became a Governor’s Regional Health Academy in 2013 and in 2015, a new Environmental Studies Academy began operations.

The division also is home to one of the first CoderDojo Academies in a public school division in the country, teaching computer coding and science skills to students. Other notable new programs include a high school Arts & Letters Pathwayand a summer Fine Arts Academy.

Dr. Moran is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students.

A past gubernatorial appointee to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, Dr. Moran was selected by her peers across the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2016 Superintendent of the Year. She subsequently was one of four statewide superintendents of the year to be selected as a finalist for 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.

In 2016, Dr. Moran was selected to serve on the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

She is a member of the MakerEdorg advisory committee and has delivered several TED Talks on the impact of creating a contemporary learning environment for students, one shaped around a student-centered project-based instructional model. Under her guidance, Albemarle County Public Schools was selected in 2015 for membership in the League of Innovative Schools., a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress to accelerate innovation in education.

Dr. Moran has appeared on the cover of Education Week’s Digital Directions magazine as a “National Mover and Shaker” for her advocacy of a curricular digital integration model, which will be featured in an upcoming profile by Edutopia. She also was selected by eSchool Media as one of its national Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year and under her leadership, the school division received the Virginia Governor’s Tech Innovation Award.

Dr. Moran is a past President of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Women Educational Leaders of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Science Supervisors. She holds leadership positions with the regional Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Education Fund, and the University of Virginia-Public Schools Educational Partnership.

Dr. Moran’s career in public education began as a high school science teacher. She subsequently served as a central office science coordinator and staff developer, elementary school principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, and adjunct instructor in educational leadership for the University of Virginia’s Curry School and the School of Continuing Education. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Furman University and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. Dr. Moran also is an alumnus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Educators Leadership Institute.


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Twitter: @pammoran

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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