Understanding the new Alberta curriculum

Understanding the new Alberta curriculum

What do we know?

Earlier this year, Alberta’s Minister of Education announced that beginning September 22, 2022, they will implement a new curriculum in K-3 Mathematics, K-3 English Language Arts and Literature, and K-6 Physical Education and Wellness. 

A new curriculum is not synonymous with starting over

Educators are fearful that teaching with a new curriculum is the equivalent of the experience of starting as a first-year teacher. While no educator wishes to relive their first year, this notion of starting over is a misconception. The first year with a new curriculum is not synonymous with being a first-year teacher. 

Throughout a career, whether that be five months or five years, educators develop expertise through their lived experience. Every unfamiliar teaching assignment, change in grade level or subject matter creates opportunities for educators to approach a “new to them” curriculum and positions teachers well for working with a new curriculum. Educators with experience teaching the same subject or grade over several years develop a keen awareness of how students develop conceptual understanding and learn at a particular developmental age. Educators should not underestimate this expertise. As teachers think about implementing a new curriculum, they take a tool kit developed over time and through experience. 

Unpacking curriculum

One of the tools educators can draw on from within their tool kit is an understanding of the curriculum. This knowledge is helpful as educators begin to unpack and make sense of curricular content in order to design learning. 

In the new Alberta curriculum, Organizing Ideas are understood as logical categories within a subject area that span some or all grade levels. Guiding Questions are designed to guide learning, call for higher-order thinking and invite students to consider the relationship between concepts in the learner outcome. Learner Outcomes simply describe what students are required to know, understand and be able to do by the end of a grade. Educators assess and report on outcomes. The Knowledge, Understandings, Skills and Procedures listed provide educators with a place to begin when answering the question, “What must students learn in order to demonstrate achievement of the Learner Outcome? Why does it matter?” Knowledge refers to what students need to know. Understandings provide significance to the knowledge statements. Skills and Procedures describe what students need to do to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. In this curricular structure, the learner outcome is the focal point. It is what must be taught, assessed and reported on. The remaining content provides educators with valuable contextual information when unpacking curriculum to design learning. 

A deep understanding of curriculum is a prerequisite for educators in the learning design process. Beyond an overall sense of the curricular structure, applying a variation of the following formula can assist educators in deconstructing learner outcomes, gaining valuable insight into the learning intended within the learner outcome.

performance verb + concept + relationship verb + concept = student learner outcome

To begin, determine the performance verb. Usually found near the beginning of the learner outcome, performance verbs are aligned with Bloom’s Taxonomy and provide valuable information about the cognitive level to which students must demonstrate understanding of the outcome. The University of Waterloo has developed a resource to assist educators in mapping performance verbs with the cognitive domain, and corresponding learning activities. Here is another resource with sample question stems that reflect the cognitive levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

Without a solid understanding of the level of performance expected of students in the learner outcome, educators risk teaching short of the learner outcome’s expectations or teaching beyond the expectations of the learner outcome. The key is to note the cognitive level described by the performance verb, then ensure learning engagements align with the cognitive level defined by the performance verb. 

Next, identify the concepts within the outcome. Concepts are “mental constructs drawn from a topic or process that transfer to new situations and contexts.” In this short video, Carla Marschall, co-author of Concept-Based Inquiry in Action (2018), describes what concepts are. Read more about concepts as part of this free, asynchronous course on conceptual understanding.  

Finally, note the relationship verb used to describe the relationships between the concepts you have identified. For the educator, the relationship verb provides perspective and highlights the conceptual relationship in the learner outcome. 

Let’s take a look at an outcome from the Grade 3 Mathematics curriculum. 

Organizing Idea Algebra: Equations express relationships between quantities.
Guiding Question How can equality facilitate agility with number?
Learning Outcome Students illustrate equality with equations.

In this example, the performance verb is illustrated, which falls within the cognitive level of Apply. This level means the learner must apply an understanding of equality and equations in different situations. The concepts identified are equality and equations, and the relationship verb indicates that learning will center around using equations to illustrate equality.

The Knowledge, Understanding, Skills and Procedures listed in the curriculum provide educators with information to begin answering the question, “What will students need to know (knowledge) and be able to do (skills) in order to apply the use of equations to illustrate equality?” 

Knowledge Understanding Skills & Procedures

The equal sign is not a signal to perform a given computation.

The left and right sides of an equation are interchangeable.

An equation uses the equal sign to

indicate equality between two expressions.

Two expressions are equal if they

represent the same number.

Write equations that represent equality between a number and an expression or between two different expressions of the same number.
A symbol may represent an unknown value in an equation. Equations can include unknown values.

Model equations that include an unknown value.

Determine an unknown value on the left or right side of an equation, limited to equations with one operation.

Solve problems using equations, limited to equations with one operation.

Remember, although formatted as a list, Knowledge, Understanding, Skills and Procedures do not represent a checklist. Instead, they provide context for the intended learning described by the learner outcome. 

Teaching is both an art and a science

Understanding the curriculum is one piece of educators’ work. Now that the learner outcome is clear, educators are free to address the learner outcome while sparking students’ curiosity, motivation, and love for learning by creatively building on students’ existing knowledge, skills, and understanding.  

An educator’s innate ability to design learning responsive to their students is critical to the learner outcome. Educators’ long-standing tradition of making instructional decisions in the best interests of their students shows this importance. This aspect of the craft includes planning, instruction and assessment. Alberta’s professional practice document, the Teaching Quality Standard, reflects these requirements. Through the ongoing and interactive planning, instruction and assessment process, educators breathe life into the learner outcomes stated within curricular documents. 

Educators find joy and satisfaction in their craft. Regardless of the learner outcomes reflected in curricular documents, educators across Alberta continue to have the professional autonomy to create high-quality, engaging opportunities for learning that respond to the diverse range of learners in their classes. This autonomy is the beauty of the education profession and remains unchanged.  

Final thoughts

Simply put, educators are masters in understanding where students are at in their learning, then creating opportunities for them to take the next step on that journey. The learner outcomes provide direction as educators observe, converse with students and examine learning artifacts. An ongoing critically reflective practice is key to educators’ ability to interpret observations, conversations and artifacts to determine the best instructional strategies to meet the diverse learning needs of all students. For decades, educators in Alberta have used curricular documents to inform and guide instruction. During this same time, educators have continued to select the best strategies for learning. Such decisions are made thoughtfully and always with students at the forefront.   

Learn how Hāpara helped a group of Alberta educators create flexible learning opportunities for the updated Alberta curriculum.

Driving equity in Alberta, Canada through the spirit of collaboration

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