Home      Organizing Induction      Improving Practice   

Evaluating curriculum materials

Maybe you work in a school district that assigns you specific science units to teach and provides you with science curriculum materials to use. Are those materials high-quality materials? Will they really help your students learn what you are supposed to teach them?

Maybe you work in a district that offers you suggestions for science topics but leaves unit development up to you. You may have several sources of curriculum materials to choose from, or you may have to find your own. How do you know which materials are good materials?

In either case, you probably do not want to teach exactly what the teachers’ guide tells you to, in the exact way that the book suggests. However, you probably don’t want to throw out the teachers’ guide and the student materials completely. You don’t really have time to develop alternative materials from scratch. But how do you know what to keep and what to throw away?

What you want to do is figure out strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum materials you plan to use. Then, consider the learning needs of your students. Modify and adapt the materials to take advantage of their strengths and improve their weaknesses in order to meet your learning goals.

The following table was developed/adapted from curriculum materials evaluation criteria published by Project 2061. Use the following table to guide you through an evaluation of the curriculum materials you are using or are planning to use to teach a science unit:


Learning goals:

What are your learning goals for this unit? It is easiest to choose one learning goal for the materials evaluation. It is important to keep this learning goal in mind and make sure that the materials are addressing each of the curriculum materials evaluation questions for this learning goal.

Category of evaluation

Curriculum materials evaluation question

Modification question

Establishing a purpose or problem

Is there a relevant, interesting, motivating, understandable problem in the materials?

What relevant, interesting, motivating, understandable problem will I use?

Eliciting students’ initial ideas

Does the material elicit student ideas and help the teacher understand student ideas?

How will I elicit student ideas?
How will I have students share their ideas with other students?

Exploring phenomena

Does the material have the students collect data, record observations, look for patterns?

What problems or phenomena will students explore?
How will the students collect data, record observations, look for patterns?

Exploring student ideas

Does the material have the students explore and share their ideas?

How will the students explore and share their ideas?

Building on student ideas

Does the material build on student ideas, challenge those ideas when necessary and give students opportunities to revise them?

How will I build on student ideas, challenge student ideas and give students opportunities to revise them?

Presenting scientific ideas

Does the material present scientific ideas?

How will I present scientific ideas?

Representing scientific ideas

Are the ideas represented effectively?

How will I effectively represent scientific ideas?

Reasoning scientifically

Does the material build on scientific reasoning, challenge scientific reasoning when necessary, and give students opportunities to revise their scientific reasoning?

How will I build on scientific reasoning, challenge student reasoning and give students opportunities to revise their reasoning?
How will I allow students to share their reasoning with each other and begin building group consensus?

Assessment

Does the material include effective assessments throughout and give the teacher opportunity to modify instruction based on assessments?

How will I assess student progress and modify my instruction to meet my students’ needs?

Application

Does the material allow students to apply their new ideas to new situations?

How will I allow students to apply their new ideas to new situations?
What situations will I use?
What support will my students need?