Addressing Curriculum Overload
The OECD E2030 held a series of three math workshops; the 1st focused on assessment and student engagement (November 29, 2021); the 2nd, on pedagogy (math workshop held January 27, 2022);and the 3rd, on mathematics textbooks, including e-textbooks (March 23, 2022).
Mr. Ikkyu Yanagimoto, a former math teacher and currently the Vice Principal of Sabae City Toba Elementary School in Fukui prefecture and an Empowerment Partner of the Kyoso Sankaku Network, presented his own experience at the 2nd math workshop on how he addressed the issue of curriculum overload in this 2nd year junior high school math.
Mr. Yanagimoto’s presentation was titled “How to address curriculum overload by focusing on big ideas - Example from 2nd year junior high school math -.” He explained his work with designing a cross-disciplinary curriculum around big ideas which reduced the instruction time spent on topics of probability, functions, and statistics in math while relating those topics to non-mathematical subjects. He explained that if these topics are taught in the order of the textbook, it will take a total of 20 lesson hours. However, the cross-disciplinary curriculum that Mr. Yanagimoto designed with his colleagues covered these topics in only 6 hours. The trick, he tells us, is to use big ideas.
He explained he designed a cross-disciplinary curriculum combining mathematics and history. In doing so, he started his class with a real-life issue which is highly relevant and familiar with Japanese students, i.e. earthquakes.
He then built upon the concept students learned from the last class (probability) and learned to connect the concept with the theme of ‘earthquakes’ - the real life topic of the day.
Mr. Yanagimoto also elaborated the lesson by bringing in an expert outside school, science communicator, online from a science museum. He then introduced the theme of one of the exhibitions - “Predict the Unknown”. Students were asked to think of other hazards than earthquakes in a group, and create a hazard map by indicating how the level of social concerns will change over time.
Students used their existing knowledge to come up with topical or historical topics, e.g. Covid19, car accidents anticipating the future with automated cars, and extreme fatigue or death from overwork or lack of work-life balance.
He explained that if the math topics “probability”, “functions”, and “statistics”were taught according to the course of study with an associated textbook and applied exercises, and added cross-disciplinary topics, such as time evolution/hisotry, on top of the regular math curriculum,, it would take approximately 20 hours.
However, he managed to design the cross-disciplinary curriculum with these topics in only 6 hours. The key principle, he tells us, is to use so-called “big ideas” as connectors across different disciplines. For example, he designed this cross-disciplinary class, focusing on two big ideas “change” and “prediction.”
According to the OECD curriculum analysis report Curriculum Overload: A way forward, big ideas are key concepts that “commonly appear in curricula as a way to highlight essential ideas that, approached from different angles, are crucial to multiple learning areas… The simplicity of indicating clearly what are the “big ideas” in a learning area can help teachers remain focused when deciding what to prioritise from the more exhaustive curriculum without being overly prescriptive at the level of content items” (2020, 16).
These big ideas were introduced to help students learn probability, function, and statistics by asking them to predict the chances of an earthquake with an epicenter in Tokyo occurring in the future. Having this real, existing threat to engage with probability, function, and statistics not only helped students see the relevance of these topics for understanding and improving the well-being of society but also motivated students to learn math for they were able to see the reason behind learning. These outcomes demonstrate how a cross-disciplinary curriculum can not only reduce curriculum overload for overworked teachers but its outcome can also benefit student motivation and engagement. This example also suggests how teacher agency, creativity and capacity to connect dots across different disciplines are part of the key to designing an engaging class.
For the full presentation of Mr. Yanagimoto, please see the attached PowerPoint slide. His examples planned to be incorporated in the upcoming OECD E2030 mathematics curriculum analysis publication.