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Designing Custom Curriculum

Creating curriculum consistent with a self-paced, project-based approach

Overview

Bronx Arena’s approach to education requires pre-made custom curriculum. Instead of delivering whole group lessons, teachers help facilitate instruction for each of their students, who may each be working on different content at different times. Creating individual daily and weekly lesson plans would be impossible for so many students, especially since learning needs could change each day. With pre-made custom curriculum, teachers are able easily adjust their learning resources based on student need and progress.

As their model has evolved, Bronx Arena has migrated from pre-packaged curriculum to custom curriculum developed by their own staff. The pre-packaged curriculum was necessary in the first year as the school focused on building educators’ capacity for facilitation (and moving them away from being the source of all knowledge in the classroom). It also became the catalyst for building custom curriculum as the staff quickly recognized the shortcomings of the pre-packaged curriculum. Staff began to supplement this curriculum with more engaging content and, the summer after the model’s first year, started to build out customized courses. The coursework is now fully custom-built, and educators add to it each year.

Bronx Arena creates curriculum design teams to build out coursework for its students. Each team is comprised of:

  • A course designer - a teacher from a specific subject area who can design a course related to that subject area.
  • An instructional designer - another educator who helps ensure the course is designed with fidelity to Bronx Arena’s instructional model (often administrators or lead teachers).
  • Additional subject area teachers - designers present to additional teachers who can provide checks for clarity (if they don’t understand it, students likely won’t), as well as identify opportunities for interdisciplinary tasks that work across multiple subjects.

Teams design curriculum for different subjects over the summer and on Wednesday’s after school during the school year. Each course must contain two challenges and a capstone project, and have student input before being made available to the broader school. After designing curriculum, educators select a few students that know Bronx Arena’s model well to work through it and provide feedback. Students receive credit for the course review and provide valuable information for design teams to make improvements before formalizing the content. Departments also revise courses throughout the year based on performance data and student feedback.

An additional benefit of creating custom curriculum is that the coursework is built to be culturally relevant for students. For example, to earn a credit in environmental sciences students might create photographic essays demonstrating the impact of humans on the environment in the Bronx (and vice-versa).