Is Curriculum a Living Organism, or a Fixed Machine?

Is Curriculum a Living Organism, or a Fixed Machine?

The world is changing rapidly. Just think about how we have moved from an Industrial revolution, to a knowledge economy that requires new skill sets. Knowledge is being built and re-built and changed on a daily basis. Facts can be looked up on the internet. Therefore, the curriculum and subject matter can only be important to students in so far as they find it meaningful. Today’s students need to have opportunities to reflect, critique, and have choices in how they create meaning.

I think this translates into the curriculum needing to be a living organism, that grows, changes and evolves. Yet knows what it needs to grow into – based on its own DNA.

We have our pedagogical structures and frameworks flexibly in place, we have the knowledge that enables us to anticipate student responses – yet we are also open to inquiry, ideas and building the curriculum somewhere into the unknown as it unravels with students — I am learning to help students collaboratively and independently build knowledge with each other in meaningful ways.


For knowledge to have power, it has to be personally meaningful. For knowledge to be personally meaningful, it needs to evolve rather than be planned to a tee.

One of the key ideas that has really become salient to me these past few months, is that curriculum is SO much more than the syllabi we use for our planning. Curriculum is a holistic process, rather than a final product that we dole out to our learners. It is a living organism, that by nature, needs to look different each year depending upon the new variables and global situations we come across each year.

There are multiple ways to interpret the curriculum, and all have the ability to bring much value to the classroom.

However, not all educational goals can be known. Therefore, we can allow ourselves to think of the goals and curriculum as evolving entities – evolving in real time – rather than being planned to a tee. We can let students take their learning deeper, versus superficially covering the curriculum expectations as per syllabus.

Certainly, with busy lives, busy families, there is comfort and value in being able to look at a document that outlines your lesson. There is comfort, and value in looking at your plans from last year and tweaking them to fit your students this year. We have to acknowledge this, because this is part of human nature.

Yet, there is also value in always thinking progressively and differently. Pushing the boundaries, thinking boldly and being brave.

I am very happy that we are educating in a time where terms including innovation, digital technologies, learner-centered are becoming the norm. I am happy that we are living in a time when we as educators have opportunities to look at what we are doing, ask ourselves why, consider principles of equity in the classroom, and consider learning needs and how to help students succeed in 2015 and beyond.

I am happy that we have an FNMI department at our board, and that there are staff that help us to understand how to make our curriculum non-assimilationist and de-colonize the curriculum not just for FNMI students but for all students. This means looking at the curriculum in new ways and making changes to include FNMI as an equal part of the curriculum – not for reasons of ‘multiculturalism’, but because we recognize equally the first peoples of turtle island.


Students are always evolving. They are not merely the passive recipients of knowledge – nor do they want to be.

In my experience, it is the active engagement in building the knowledge for themselves that engages them. I have taken great steps back from serving them up knowledge and content. My students are actively building the knowledge they need through strategies that include Michael Fullan’s 6 C’s: Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Character and Citizenship. This links very well with the Grandfather Teachings too.

It is a very interesting, exciting and promising time for education indeed!

What does curriculum mean to you?

My reflections and findings about my year of evolving the traditional classroom into an Education Commons.

Deborah McCallum

Copyright, 2015



4 responses to “Is Curriculum a Living Organism, or a Fixed Machine?”

  1. […] Part V: Overall reflections on Curriculum Development. […]


  2. […] key roles in Innovation, the edtech explosion of our age has invariably affected our teaching and curriculum in many ways that we may not even be fully aware of […]


  3. […] in ways that allow for student agency to be actualized. We need to be experts with technology and curriculum, and more. However, we also need to move far beyond the technology tools and the curriculum […]


  4. […] to say about our curriculum documents either. The fact that we place all of our teaching on the curriculum documents and then limit that curriculum to what is measured on a standardized test is quite […]


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