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PrISM's Curricular Themes


PrISM's Five Curricular Themes


Course Organization and Design

PrISM courses are based on the following five themes. Different courses may emphasize different themes, but a brief overview of the five themes is embedded in all courses.

  1. Learning Through and About Where You Live

    Also called "place-based education," the idea is that children learn best when their learning directly relates to their lives - especially in their local communities. To "learn through and about where you live" is both a means and end in education: a "means" in terms of increasing motivation by attending to context; an "end" in terms of promoting civic responsibility and personal identity. Mathematics and science curriculum and instruction that helps students also learn about history, geography, culture and so on, will help the learning be more relevant and encourage students' appreciation of and participation in their own communities and the broader world community in ways that will better the lives of everyone.


    Imagine mathematics and science curriculum and instruction:
    • Helping children study about coastal communities dependent on tourism and fisheries,
      or arid regions devoted to ranching,
      or the Willamette Valley's unique mixture of agriculture and urbanism
      or even helping city children explore urban architecture and seismic safety in ways that provide examples of the mathematical and scientific principles they are learning in class.
    • Finding a community partner like a local historical society or art or science museum to help with designing learning activities that highlight mathematical and scientific principles in context.
    • Making the classroom or the school the community or "place" students explore. For example, They might explore:
      • Flora and fauna on the school grounds considering the relative health of the grounds and suggest adjustments that have potential to improve that health.
      • Shape and symmetry through a "shape walk" through the classroom, school, and neighborhood as a way of seeing patterns and geometry all around us in nature and man-made structures including ways aesthetics may influence design decisions.
      • One another's mathematical and scientific thinking as a basis to begin investigation (inquiry and problem solving) and as a way to deepen their own thinking and make connections.
  2. Learning with Tools to Support and Extend Thinking and Problem Solving

    Today's students are using more technology than ever before. The flexibility and power of online systems, of computers, and other technologies are changing our day-to-day lives by taking advantage of the computational power to solve problems, design new products and systems, and push the boundaries of our thinking. Today's children tend to be fluent in those aspects of computational thinking that are important to their outside-of-school everyday lives. They gain this knowledge and skill from their peers and by relatively uninhibited experimentation. Using these same technology tools in school can enhance and extend learning. Referred to collectively as "computational thinking," this approach is playing a steadily increasing role in how and what children and youth learn and even how they share and demonstrate that learning. As more and more learning opportunities draw upon the tools of the computer and Internet, students' computational thinking will help them gain the skills they will need for their, and our, future.


  3. Learning Mathematics and Science Together and with Other Subjects

    Experiences and activities in our lives rarely require the application of only one kind of subject knowledge at a time. We live our lives through experiences that require us to bring to bear many different kinds of knowledge and skills. Students learn better when learning imitates life by focusing on real problems or activities that bring together multiple subjects. Learning mathematics and science in an integrated way throughout the school day also helps make learning more meaningfully connected to students' lives and communities.


    Imagine mathematics and science connecting across the curriculum by learning:
    • Through baseball - reading about famous players, including the first African American league or the dominance of baseball in some South American cultures; examining pitching in baseball through principles of physics that even non-pitchers can appreciate; and becoming consumers of data through analysis of the details and subtleties of baseball statistics and what they can communicate about a player's or team's performance.
    • About the moon by reading titles like "Many Moons", "And the Moon Came", and "Goodnight Moon" and collecting data through observations of the moon over time then drawing on science to understand why the moon seems to move across the sky, and why it can be seen in the daytime as well as at night.
    • About perspective and distance in drawing or the structure of tones across different scales in music.
  4. Learning the Languages of Communicating and Thinking

    Being literate in today's world certainly means learning languages for communicating with each other. But it also means being able to learn other subjects like mathematics and science through reading - reading that maybe be more difficult to understand than stories. It is also about developing the ability to communicate by talking, reading, writing, listening, and critiquing media. Learning the languages of life for our students also means learning languages for thinking. We all need to learn to think symbolically, or experimentally, or historically to understand and solve the problems of our world. Learning mathematics or science involves also learning to be literate in the ideas, symbols, representations, and processes that generate new learning within those subjects. It also means students engage in high-level thinking and discourse as they explore, create, make sense of ideas for themselves. Another important language for thinking that increasingly links thinking and communicating involves learning to use tools like manipulatives, models, computers, and other technologies in order to learn, make sense, and share discoveries with others.


    Think about enhancing students' learning mathematics and science by:
    • Learning to move among the various languages of speech, writing, scientific and mathematical thinking and technology.
    • Learning fast through the internet, social networking, and other kinds of social and technical media that allow them to do many things at once, follow different threads of interest and build social and conceptual connections.
    • Learning slow by taking time to think through, listen carefully, and consider without having their attention stolen by another link, short video, or text message. Thinking "slow" means taking time to focus on one thing deeply for a time.
    • Finding ways to connect and communicate with everyone - in one way or another - regardless of their language, culture, ability or location.
  5. Learning with Energy, Awe and Purpose

    Learning should engage, excite, and awe. We need to "spark a sense of wonder and excitement" in children and youth to pursue careers in science and engineering (Obama, April 27, 2009). In all areas of learning, students need learning to excite them and enable them to explore and investigate their own ideas. It should allow them to find things, solve problems, create new ideas, and be happy and proud of their efforts. Every student needs the experience of being so intrigued by something that they cannot think or talk about much else - for months. Being impressed and awed by our world is part of learning and learning to learn more. Inspiration in science and mathematics can motivate students to continue to problem solve and inquire throughout their life and can encourage and enable students to learn to share - or "publish" - their learning and ideas in order to entertain, persuade, teach, and excite others.


    Imagine mathematics and science students who:
    • Become passionate about clay animation and create a blog that connects them to children around the world who then publish a video in several languages to invite others into their community.
    • "Geek out" on a favorite video game, join various chat communities and learn together how to tweak the game while in the process learning about the principles and operations of physics.
    • Solve engineering design problems while applying computer programming skills through Lego robotics challenge where they work as a team to develop solutions to problems and later meet for tournaments to share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots.
    • Develop interest and connections with peers in their community; lead them to become advocates for a variety of social and ecological causes.

PrISM Project Design Principles

  • Accessibility
    All PrISM courses will be offered in innovative ways that draw upon online course options, hybrid approaches that use both online and face-to-face, week-long intensive institutes, or other innovative combinations in order to increase accessibility to all teachers in Oregon.
  • Developmental Curriculum
    PrISM courses are designed to follow a sequence from 1) introductory courses that build teacher confidence to teach math and science, to 2) mathematics and science focus courses that build content mastery in a particular domain, 3) integrated practice courses that assist teachers with curriculum and instruction design that integrates mathematics and/or science with multiple subjects, and 4) a capstone experience that challenges the teacher to document increased capacity to teach mathematics and science that reflects the PrISM curricular themes. The courses provide teachers with knowledge of mathematics and science content and instruction so they can share the learning of the colleagues in their building as well as a provide a pathway for continued learning.
  • Management through a Consortium of Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs)
    The PrISM Consortium of multiple IHEs creates a single gateway for teachers to offerings from multiple universities. Teachers' selection of a home university also ensures advising and mentoring to tailor the PrISM curriculum to the teacher's specific interests and needs. Students can also receive degree credit for PrISM courses depending on the rules of the home institution. The Consortium members also agree to a common tuition which increases accessibility for teachers to offerings of all Consortium members.
The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. PrISM Oregon is managed by The Teaching Research Institute, Western Oregon University.
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