An On-line Course of SEVEN ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS, BIG Ideas, and Activities.

This is a distance learning course, concentrating on uses of the Internet for teaching, learning and professional development. It also is intended to give you enough web sites and leads-in to more web sites to be a continuously useful resource for your learning and doing.

Assessment is based on work you produce in series of essays/listings for each Essential Question or topic you "connect with," and with an annotated lists of sites supporting your views and reflecting your web work. Note the Rubric for Course Portfolio Assessment.

For instance, you might write “The site XXXX [] gave me a different perspective on how to help students learn _____. It also cleared up for me something I was confused about, and that is what educators mean by __________.” Certainly you would want to elaborate more.

This work may be emailed to me at, or snail-mailed to me at Chad C. Osborne 13634 Leadwell St., Van Nuys, CA 91405. If you email the work, you may wish to put it in a Zip file, which compresses text and makes it easier to send over the 'Net.

RUBRICS for each question point you in directions your essays should take.


(*"Most Productively" will be an answer accounting for each of the four categories of factors below. You may want to view Question 1 as an "Umbrella Problem" covering four sub-questions. Also, you do not need to work on these questions in the order given. Question 1 may become clearer as you work through the other questions, for instance.)

Problem Setting

"A clear understanding of a problem prefigures its lines of solution." —Margaret Mead

    Following are four categories of topics with links and ideas to consider in developing your perspective on the need to reframe curricula.

    What all these viewpoints portray, in large part, is the playing out of economic market forces and the greater strength of some ideas, individuals, and corporations for "natural selection." Diversity of approaches, as in Nature, rather than searching for one best way, and approaches that integrate various styles, need to be sought.

    Resistance and Psychological Factors

  1. The need for reframed curricula and the systemic nature of resistance to reform, are decribed in Psychological Bars To School Improvement.
  2. Teachers must deal with change and resistance to change, in personal, interpersonal and school-wide dimensions; yet the educational psychology that teachers get has nothing of Depth Psychology, nor is there any dimension of Psycho-Spiritual psychology. Thus teachers are neither prepared to understand the resistance to creativity, surprise, and change that result from personal fears and institutional shadows and collectively repressed fears, nor are they equipped to develop the personal qualities that can deal with and integrate these factors.
  3. Donald A. Shon's The Reflective Practioner describes the theory of knowledge that typical schools are built around as "privileged knowledge which it is the business of teachers to teach, and students to learn...embodied in texts, curriculum, lesson plans, examinations, indeed institutionalized in every aspect of the school...Children are fed portions of knowledge, in measured doses" (p. 329), all given the same measure at the same time, and assessed with the same tools. This feeds the teacher's psychological need to control (the "shadow side" of all helping professions) and the society's investment in fostering a view that we must rely on experts and corporate sponsors to determine our needs and the best means to meet them. Are there curricular approaches that ameliorate these tendencies toward control and outer direction?

    Pedagogical Factors

  4. Assessment is treated as an add-on, separate component of the curriculum, with much of it yielded to high-stakes standardized testing. Teachers need to consider and adapt approaches such as Layered Curriculum that integrate assessment through a combinination of Rubrics and individual conferences.

    Socio-Economic Factors

  5. The Intelligent Student's Guide to the New World Order -- This article presents a sociological view of schooling as an attempt "to CONSOLIDATE policies, COMMERCIALIZE instruction, CLASSIFY individuals, CLAIM jurisdiction, establish CONTROL, and train you to fit obediently into their world management system without hesitation or protest."
  6. The Public School Nightmare -- Schooling was developed from a Prussian model, intended to give "Obedient soldiers to the army; Obedient workers to the mines; Well subordinated civil servants to government; Well subordinated clerks to industry; Citizens who thought alike about major issues." According to John Taylor Gatto, the real lessons of school come not from the academic curriculum, but from the more potent lessons buried within the day-to-day ways of learning and living as taught by bells, grades, and other gross violations of "natural order" and logic. In the spirit of natural selection and survival of the fittest in the free market "jungle", similar efforts at control and manipulation of mass population are evident in the Food Industry and in T.V. News. Having spoon-fed school graduates plays into this manipulation for economic ends.
  7. Excerpts from John Taylor Gatto's Essays give further illustrations of the coercive aspects of public schooling.
  8. Breaking the Bond suggests that birthing procedures are the beginning of alienation of 21st century humans from the process of learning. The infant "has moved from a soft, warm, dark, quiet, and totally nourishing place into a harsh sensory overload. He is physically abused, violated in a wide variety of ways, subjected to specific physical pain and insult, all of which could still be overcome, but he is then isolated from his mother."

    Shifting Models/Paradigms of Learning and Knowing

  9. Donald A. Shon, author of The Reflective Practitioner and Educating the Reflective Practitioner, has concentrated his work on what the scientist, architect, psychotherapist, teacher, and other professionals actually do and face in practice, in contrast to the simplistic models they learn in licensing programs. He attributes much of this difference to the almost two century domination of a Positivist "Technical Rationality" paradigm, which has stressed linear problem solving, in contrast to the more modern paradigm accounting for problem setting in a climate of complexity, uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict.
  10. The Big Story ["paradigm"] Shift describes this contrast, as well. Scientific discovery, historical occurrences and research, and mathematical discoveries all occur consistent with the newer paradigm--but are taught in school curricula as if they were linear cause-and-effect fields of knowledge. By being unscientific, and inconsistent with models of what practioners in the disciplines actually do, and the nature of knowledge in the disciplines--school curricula are both unscientific and anti-intellectual.
  11. The What We've Learned summary from the University Self-Study of Virginia Tech illustrates how the construction of knowledge by the learner has replaced earlier conditioned learning and information processing models.
  12. Understanding Why Education Must Change describes the shifting paradigm for schooling that emerges from understanding how the brain learns best.
  13. A New Model for Education , a chapter from a National Academy of the Sciences book, (you will need to use the "Navigate To:" Menu at the bottom of the page) explains how schooling as currently conceived does not meet even the needs of industrial and commercial interests. A new way of teaching is called for in the information processing world.
  14. Page 9 of the report Five Environmental Trends and Fourteen Innovations in Medical Education illustrates how learner-centered, knowledge-rich active learning, problem-based curricula, and technology-enhanced education are needed to give medical education the advantages of recent findings in learning psychologies and information sciences. This is no less true in the education of teachers and the application of curricula in the schools.


(Be sure your answer addresses ideas raised by Project- and Problem-Based Teaching, Resources from the Coalition of Essential Schools, and Layered Curriculum)

Individual teachers who develop their curricula to meet 21st Century needs will seek to find means that give students constructive roles, that include choices among projects, that are organized around essential problems and questions, and which use the textbook and state standards as resources, rather than as ends in themselves.

Textbook chapters and units may be covered much more quickly by "division of labor" assignments and reporting. This would then allow time for work on projects and problems that allow students to make choices, develop interests, learn to manage time, and avoid the lock-step learn the same thing at the same pace syndrome. This is the heart of the approach advocated in many of the programs trying to prepare students for life in the 21st century.

Textbooks and State Standards/Testing seem to take curriculum out of the teacher's hand. The whole purpose of this course is to equip you to reframe the use of texts and standards in ways that will produce skillful, capable and confident 21st century citizens. Consider the following:

Projects and Problem-Based Learning

  1. Project Based Learning Resources
  2. Project Based Learning (PBL) Handbook -- The Handbook costs $22.00 which includes tax and media-mail shipping.
  3. Criteria for Authentic Project-Based Learning -- Guidance and examples aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills
  4. The Best Projects Online -- Over 100
  5. Project Based Learning Checklists
  6. Essential Questions in Teaching and Learning -- Using higher mental and emotional levels to overcome the trivialization of learning by "high stakes" testing.
  7. Learner-Centered Classrooms, Problem-Based Learning, and the Construction of Understanding and Meaning by Students
  8. Problem-Based Learning Activities
  9. Blue Web'n Content Areas -- Numerous projects by discipline
  10. ThinkQuest Projects -- Every curriculum area, developed by student and teacher teams
  11. On-Line Projects -- Menu of over sixty projects
  12. Using the Internet to Promote Inquiry-Based Learning
  13. Questing the Web: Web Quests as Essential Questions
  14. Problem-Based Learning
  15. Asking the Essential Questions: Curriculum Development
  16. Teaching Tips for Writing in All Areas
  17. Shared Inquiry

Coalition of Essential Schools Resources & Assessment

  1. Empowering Students: Essential Schools' Missing Link -- "Students are too often the forgotten heart of school reform-its whole purpose and its major resource. how can their power be nurtured and tapped as schools work toward more active learning, more personal and decent school climates, and higher standards and expectations?"
  2. CES Curriculum Resources -- Varied and useful resources from a true 21st Century School alliance
  3. Less Is More: The Secret of Being Essential
  4. Curriculum & Assessment at the Parker School -- Outstanding example of an Essential School's blending curriculum and assessment
  5. Networks and Essential Schools: How Trust Advances Learning
  6. Assessment Matters! Toward Authentic Assessment -- Teachers need to develop better sources and kinds of assessment than standardized testing allows. This site gives examples for each discipline and a variety of other viewpoints.

Layered Curriculum

All the work in this section is on the page Layered Curriculum. Spend a substantial block of time learning as much as you can from this rich and versatile site!


(Be sure your answer draws on internet sources that can be used to help students experience working in knowledge-rich settings with a full menu of options and a clear overall context.)

  1. Kids Hub -- All elementary and middle school subjects
  2. High School Hub -- All high school subjects
  3. Regents Exam Prep Center -- All subjects, mainly high school
  4. Teacher Development Network Courses -- All subjects, all levels. Any of these courses may be taken for graduate credit, as well.
  5. Saskatchewan Learning -- The Evergreen Curriculum
  6. Ontario Curriculum
  7. S.C.O.R.E. -- California Curriculum Resources
  8. British National Curriculum
  9. Fundamentals of Curriculum -- Leslie Owen Wilson's comprehensive site gives good traditional basics in curriculum, with minimal addressing of 21st century factors noted in Essential Question 1.


(Be sure your answer addresses higher level as well as basic skills, and reflects on ways to integrate skill practice and coaching into a reframed curriculum.)

Use a reframed curriculum to ensure students become thoughtful and resourceful as a result of their learning. Realize the "content coverage" pressure (see Essential Question 7) is part of the way schooling operates in a tradition of "dumbing down" students to create a compliant and easily led mass consumer audience. Ensuring that students become thoughtful and resourceful is no easy mission, but a key one if students are to be adequately prepared for 21st century life.

  1. What Is a Thinking Curriculum? -- "Thinking curricula fulfill a dual agenda by integrating content and process. Within this agenda, students develop habits of mind with respect to learning that serve them well both in school and in the real world."
  2. 21st-Century Skills -- What does it mean to be "literate and educated" in today's knowledge-based Digital Age?
  3. What are the Determinants of Children's Academic Successes and Difficulties?
  4. The 21st Century Mile Guide -- The Partnership for the 21st century produced this guidebook.
  5. Habits of Mind
  6. Dispositions as Educational Goals
  7. Emotional Intelligence in Schools
  8. Six Seconds' EQ Model -- Resourceful site. Note links along left margin of this site.
  9. Study Guides and Strategies -- Curriculum-linked coaching in study skills results in higher reading score gains than does direct instruction in reading.
  10. Content-Specific Learning Strategies
  11. Cooperative Learning, Writing Across the Curriculum, and Much More
  12. Student Learning Groups that Really Work
  13. The Big Six: An Information Problem-Solving Process
  14. Big6 Matrix: Information Literacy Standards and Internet Research -- Awesome and rich site for Internet and Critical Thinking
  15. 20 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Students
  16. Creative Thinking
  17. Helping Students Assess Their Thinking
  18. Student Self-Assessment: Making Standards Come Alive
  19. Creating Rubrics Through Negotiable Contracting and Assessment
  20. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
  21. Mind Tools -- Life-planning and maximum use of mind and creativity
  22. Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free Range Students
  23. Paulo Freire and Dialogic Education
  24. Inquiry Teaching Strategies
  25. Using the Internet to Promote Inquiry-based Learning -- A structured approach to inquiry-based learning that uses the World Wide Web as a primary information resource
  26. Differentiating Instruction
  27. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) -- Many insights and resources


(Be sure your answer draws on sources that can be used both to develop units and to give a menu of unit choices to students.)

  1. PBS Teacher Source
  2. Unit Plan Search
  3. The Essential Learning Areas
  4. Learning for a Sustainable Future
  5. Intel Education: Unit & Project Plans


(Be sure your answer draws on sources that can be used both to broaden both the curriculum and choices for students.)

  1. Problem Based Service Learning: Strategies for Making a Difference in Higher Education
  2. Education By Design Coaching Kits and Other Resources
  3. Enriching the Curriculum Through Service Learning
  4. Unit or Course Design & Teaching for Understanding
  5. School-To-Work Transition
  6. The Smart Catalog -- Enriching math, science and technology professional development opportunities and resources, organized according to the California Math and Science Frameworks and through a search engine. Also, note the range of innovative practice articles!


(Be sure your answer reflects your understanding and intentions in this key area.)


Individual teachers must deal with this most central of issues in teaching. Does our need to prepare students to take high stakes standardized tests mean that we need to address the standards and frameworks thoroughly? Must we sacrifice favorite units--favorites with students and with us--in order to cover topics likely to be on the test? It may take courage to do what is right; at least in dealing with this issue the evidence is surprisingly counterintuitive, and in favor of what most teachers would prefer to do.

The human brain processes information and learns in ways incompatible with the textbook- and standards-driven effort to cover vast amounts of knowledge. A rich learning environment is a brain-compatible envionment. What we know from the neurosciences is at odds with what the national and state governments are trying to accomplish through high stakes testing. This disparity reinforces the command and control mentality of corporate influences and repressive socio-economic forces rooted in the traditions of schooling.

Critical Issue: Rethinking Assessment and Its Role in Supporting Educational Reform A key site and links for understanding the assessment factors in this issue.

Fit the Frameworks to Life makes the case for meaningful content addressing multiple frameworks through project and problem-based teaching.

An excerpt from UNDERSTANDING BY DESIGN by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (ASCD, 1998), PP. 131-133
  1. "I would like to go into greater depth, but I have to cover the content. This all takes so much time!" We believe this statement is plausible, but incorrect, and based on a misunderstanding about the relationship between results and teaching.

    The root of the misunderstanding is the very real problem of having to make difficult choices and priorities in instruction. All teaching involves deciding in part what not to teach or emphasize. All teaching involves the feeling that we are making great sacrifices in likely and desirable understanding. No good teacher has ever complained of having too much time.
    The "coverer” acts under an illusion, we believe: Textbook and test-driven instruction operate under an untested assumption that coverage maximizes test scores. But there is little evidence to support that view.. In fact, the recent Third International Mathematical and Science Study (TIMSS) reveals that the opposite is true. So much is simply passed over without inquiry. Weaker students get confused and lost. Memory is overtaxed in the absence of central questions and ideas upon which organized inquiries and answers can be placed. Ultimately, coverage is based on an egocentric fallacy: If I talked about it and we read about it, they got it. (Or as a high school teacher we know once termed it, "teaching by mentioning it.")
    Coverage involves a sad irony. in the absence of guiding questions, ideas, and methods that are meant to recur and inform all learning, students are left to guess about what is most important and what is going to be tested. Test results reflect this lack, even when the teaching is otherwise good.
    The time-honored justification for this type of content coverage is that the syllabus and upcoming tests somehow demand it. Yet, teachers who make this claim rarely subject it to critical scrutiny. Should we think that teaching worse causes higher test scores? That's what is implied by their rationale. But let's stop and rethink this understanding:

  2. **What methods of teaching ensure the greatest retention and recall of facts? Surely, not one that is essentially composed of unconnected lectures and reading, with no prioritized knowledge containing overarching ideas or performance goals to guide note taking and studying. Recall depends on meaningful, prioritized ideas and uses to organize what is to be remembered.

  3. **When we compare classrooms with the highest test scores and those with the lowest test scores, do we see more or less uncoverage and performance-based work in the former or the latter classrooms? In our experience, the best test scores correlate with more diverse, active, and intellectually provocative forms of instruction. The worst scores come from classrooms that rely on simplistic worksheets, homework problems having no larger purpose, and “copy down my notes from the blackboard” kinds of work. Recent research by Newmann (1997) and his colleagues supports the idea that more authentic work leads to better overall student performance.

  4. **Has the teacher who covers only content conducted action research to justify that the coverage approach yields equally optimal results--to determine what forms and diversity of teaching maximize test scores? Few teachers have ever done systematic research into their own practice. Rather, they grow comfortable with their habits, which invariably are developed with limited exposure to other ways of teaching. They fear that new approaches to instruction will jeopardize results. That is a reasonable fear, we allow, but not quite the same thing as their having evidence that their coverage approach is demonstrably the most effective.
    Coverage thus works under a false logic, one that betrays a misconception about cause and effect in test validity. We can easily confuse correlation with causality: Short-answer test results correlate with important performance; teaching to items in a coverage way doesn't cause important performance.
    For example, it would be ludicrous to practice the doctor's physical exam as a way of becoming fit and well. The reality is the opposite: If we are physically fit and do healthy things, we will pass the physical. The separate items on the physical are not meant to be taught and crammed for; rather, they serve as indirect measures of our normal healthful living. Multiple-choice answers correlate with more genuine abilities and performance; yet mastery of those test items does not cause achievement.

    Standardized tests were not invented to be directly "taught to." Indeed, we corrupt their meaning if we teach to them. Rather, they were meant to be the easiest ways possible of testing classroom-developed knowledge and skills indirectly and inexpensively. (This point is discussed at greater length in Wiggins, 1998, Chapters 10 and 11.)

  5. **The correlation of standardized test scores with socioeconomic status is FAR higher than their predictive value for academic success. "Conventional multiple choice, knowledge-centered testing does not serve the cause of education well. Such testing drives teachers toward rote styles of instruction that may help with retention of knowledge but have little hope of building understanding or the active use of knowledge." David Perkins Smart Schools: Better Thinking and Learning for Every Child (Free Press, 1992)

What Gets Assessed Is What Gets Taught

Those who want assessment to drive instruction toward new learning theories often remind us that "What you test is what you get." That is, tests determine not only the content but also the format of instruction. Shepard (1989) found that in response to externally mandated tests:

"Teachers taught the precise content of the tests rather than underlying concepts; and skills were taught in the same format as the test rather than as they would be used in the real world. For example, teachers reported giving up essay tests because they are inefficient in preparing students for multiple-choice tests."
In schools or classrooms using multiple-choice tests, instruction tends to emphasize drill and practice on decontextualized skills, reflecting the emphasis of many multiple-choice tests. As Romberg, Zarinna, and Williams (1989) point out:
"A study of eighth grade [mathematics] teachers from every state revealed that the majority of teachers make instructional changes as a result of mandated tests, and the nature of those changes is at odds with the recommendations of the curriculum and evaluation standards. For example, in response to the use of such tests teachers increase their emphasis on basic skills and pencil-and-paper computation and decrease their emphasis on project work, the use of technology, and cooperative effort."
Rather than increasing test scores, however, this focus on endless skill and drill can actually have the opposite effect: "Not surprisingly, students given instruction aimed at conceptual understanding do better on skills tests than students drilled on the skills directly (Carpenter, Fennema, Peterson, Chiang, & Loef, 1988)" (in Shepard, 1989, p. 6). Indeed, it can be harmful to postpone instruction in higher-order thinking skills (such as problem solving) until low-level skills (such as computation) have been mastered. Students learn by doing. After all, how many of us learned to write by endlessly practicing on vocabulary tests, grammar worksheets, and spelling lessons? We learned by writing and by correcting our own errors. Of course, students - particularly new learners - need some direct practice in skills, but low-achieving students suffer the most from this approach, because if their initial test scores are low, they often are given dull and repetitive skills instruction that does not enable them to grasp underlying concepts (Levin, 1987).

The stress of high-stakes testing, combined with the relatively isolated nature of teaching, has caused many teachers to "bite off way more than they or their students can chew." Without consultation with and division of labor among teachers, a single teacher often end up trying to cover virtually all the frameworks. This, research suggests, is more likely to result in lower scores and greater forgetting. Given what we know of "Jigsaw" division of labor learning collaborative/cooperative learning, it should be possible to "cover" content in a similar way to how law students prepare for their Boards through division of labor. Placing student learning in the context of Essential Questions.

Rubrics and collaborative/cooperative learning can increase student producivity, prepare them for career work, and leave time for teachers to use many of the lessons and units that have worked now, but which have been sacrificed on the altar of high-stakes testing.

Also, other sites on RUBRICS give examples of formats that can be used for assessing more significant performance and teaching students to do meaningful self-assessment. This would take testing quantum leaps beyond standardized tests.

The site Raising Scores & Expectations has more tips to help students prepare for standardized tests.

This work may be emailed to me at, or snail-mailed to me at Chad C. Osborne 13634 Leadwell St., Van Nuys, CA 91405.