How the ATLAS Communities Structure a Curriculum

The Atlas Communities project has put together a design tool (forthcoming) that suggests using the following categories in planning curriculum:

Generative topics . . .
* Are developmentally appropriate.
* Are broad and complex.
* Are interesting to students and teachers.
* Are important for understanding responsible citizenship and the disciplines.
These criteria can help you make decisions about what generative topics you may want to explore, but don’t get too caught up in trying to nail down the “right” generative topic. Teachers approach the idea of generative topics differently and there is no hard and fast “right” or “wrong” way to approach them. The questions students explore and the performances they develop are the most important aspect in this curriculum framework.

Essential Understandings . . .
* Are developmentally appropriate.
* Are the concepts, principles and lesson most important to productive citizenship and for understanding the disciplines.

Issues, Problems and Challenges
* Provide a context for developing the essential understandings.
* Go to the heart of the discipline(s) and are important to responsible citizenship.
* Require students to examine multiple perspectives.
* Require intellectual work-thinking.

Essential Questions . . .
* Are developmentally appropriate.
* Raise the level of debate and discourse.
* Require analysis and judgment.
* Are open-ended.
* Have importance to both the community and the disciplines.

The Skills of Inquiry
Reading: Students will read, understand, and use the ideas and arguments presented in a variety of challenging materials written at grade-level. Listening: Students will identify the central ideas in oral presentations and explain how these ideas were developed by the speaker. They’ll take effective notes and employ them in their work.

Data Analysis: Students will gather, analyze, manipulate, and employ quantitative and qualitative data (presented in a variety of formats); understand its use in real-world situations; and use it to solve and express their answers to real-world problems.

Questioning: Students will identify essential questions of disciplinary, personal, and social significance, as a regular part of their learning process. Research: Students will collect, organize, process, and utilize information, using a variety of resources (e.g., libraries, computers, community members; books, videos, CD-ROM, periodicals), as a regular part of the learning process.

Reasoning/Problem Solving: Students will investigate and answer essential questions. They’ll identify and formu-late problems, propose and evaluate solutions. They’ll draw reasonable conclusions from information found in a variety of sources, and defend their conclusions. They’ll recognize fallacies in others’ reasoning. They’ll comprehend, develop, and use concepts and generalizations, and they’ll distinguish between fact and opinion.

The Skills of Expression
Writing: Students will express themselves clearly, through well organized paragraphs and papers, using appropriately mature vocabulary, employing proper conventions, and varying style for different readers and purposes; they’ll also write good word problems.

Speaking: Students will express themselves clearly, from notes and extemporaneously, using language the audience can understand, and a tone and style appropriate to the audience and situation.

Visual Expression: Students will employ additional mediums to communicate ideas. They’ll use these mediums to make presentations that are clear, easily understood, effective, and persuasive.

Technology: Students will understand and employ technology for a variety of purposes, including communications, information gathering, and the creation of documents and presentations.

The Habits of an Effective Learner
* Creative and curious
* Analytical and critical
* Purposeful and strategic
* Thorough and precise
* Reflective
* Collaborative
* Respectful and honest
* Supportive and responsible

Building and Assessing Understanding: Atlas Communities Diagram