The development of new classes

March 15, 2023, 10:02 a.m. | By Sophia Zeng | 1 year, 3 months ago

Where are inspirations taken from? How are curricula developed?

Video Game Programming, First Aid, Neuroscience: Did you know about these classes? Blair makes new electives almost every year at Blair, providing Blazers with a variety of options to choose from. 

What is the class-approval process? What builds up a curriculum? What really is going on behind the scenes? 

New courses have two main components: a county-wide code and a curriculum. Courses need official approval for the code while curriculum-building is often flexible to the teacher's interests. 

The process of putting a class on the course catalog is easy if an unused county-wide code already exists. Administrator Peter Ostrander explains that codes are often not the greatest problem and that the hardest part is actually making the curriculum. However, gaining approval for an original course without a code will take a longer time as it goes through approval at various levels. 

Making a curriculum requires many rounds of trial and error. The process of making a curriculum is often flexible and can be adapted based on the teacher's and the students' preferences. 

Health teacher Edith Boyar is starting her first year of teaching the semester course First Aid in the 2023-2024 school year. The course offers instruction on First Aid training along with an opportunity for CPR certification for both staff and students. 

Boyar was once a swim coach and had to learn CPR. When she started teaching it to kids, she realized how impactful it was. She gained full inspiration for this class during the summer through networking with other MCPS teachers who taught the course before. 

Boyar talked to a teacher who taught First Aid at Blair around 15 years ago and is now teaching the same course at Quince Orchard High School. Hence, she realized that the code for this course was pre-existing. 

If the codes did not exist, she could reach out to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Health Education Content Specialist Teresa Shatzer to ask for a code. At Blair, Ostrander or Health Department Head Rob McMahon could help get her codes as well. 

Despite the codes being ready, it still took three to four months to fully set up the class due to the sheer amount of time dedicated to producing a stringent curriculum. "It's work, but it's work that I don't mind doing because I think it's so valuable," Boyar says. 

The Red Cross developed a large part of the course. A small portion will be online while the hands-on part will be in person. As a result, it is very scripted and organized, which is especially important in a safety class. Boyar is attending a first responder course at Montgomery College in the spring to gain inspiration for her class as well. 

To design the course, she edited the syllabus to fit the needs of Blair specifically. Her friend, a teacher who has been teaching the First Aid course for a long time, sent her some materials. Boyar's plan is to start by doing exactly what other schools are doing and add new activities as she sees fit. For instance, Blair has a fire department, so she is considering forming a partnership with them. 

Except for the code, the course required little approval for its curriculum. Boyar realized that the process was not as difficult as she was expecting. "Everybody was so on top of it. Administration was super supportive. My department head was super supportive. I can imagine if you had pushback and people weren't sure about the class, it might take a little longer, but I'm the type of person that gets on things right away," she says. 

Curriculum development is flexible to the interests of both teachers and students. Photo courtesy of Hannah Hekhuis.

However, not all courses are approved so quickly. Social studies teacher Douglas Jimenez developed the current curriculum for the Latin American History course. He planned out the class as it was happening, so it took around two years to produce a full, well-thought-out curriculum. “Throughout the year, I just filled things in [based on] how I thought the class was going, the current events and things that I found interesting,” he says. 

As with Boyar, the code for Latin American History already existed because it had been taught in the county before. It has been available since he was a junior at Blair in 2008 when he took the course with Social Studies teacher Marc Grossman. There were occasional gaps in between when no one was able to teach it. 

Latin American History has always been available as a class, but it has no set Montgomery County curriculum. Consequently, any teacher that takes on the course makes a creative curriculum for themselves. "When I took on the class, which was about five years ago now, I took it from scratch and just designed my own curriculum," Jimenez says. 

When he came back as a teacher, Jimenez decided to teach the class himself. He spent the summer before trying to map everything out and came up with a rough structure as well as a number of assignments. Afterward, he filled in the curriculum throughout the year based on how he thought the class was going and with information he found intriguing. Current events were sometimes discussed in the class. "Where it is now, I can give it to someone and just have them know what to do each week," Jimenez says. 

In recent years, MCPS is trying to make the class a little more structural and organized. However, there is enough flexibility to allow Jimenez to take his own creative spin on the curriculum. 

For Jimenez, running the class was the fun part. "Preparation is always harder for me [compared to running the class] because you have to map everything out and you have to plan. You have to anticipate certain questions [and] certain difficulties," Jimenez says. 

Overall, the process of developing Latin American History was stimulating to Jimenez. "It was difficult, but in a good way…Grossman gave me a lot of stuff, but it was still really open-ended…It took a lot of my own personal research to find documents and find resources…So I'd say it was challenging because it was fun," he says. 

Social studies teacher Amy Ahrens' experience with the class development process is slightly different. MBHS Social Studies department head Rebecca Hughes asked Ahrens if she was interested in teaching the Asian Desi Pacific Islanders Studies course currently being developed by MCPS Central Office. Although the Central Office develops a syllabus, there is still freedom for the teacher to develop their own materials. 

If she takes on the class, Ahrens plans to tailor the curriculum to her students. For example, class activities will depend on the demographics of the class. In other words, teachers are free to add a creative twist to the curriculum based on their interests and on current events. 

The development of each class is different, but each class is based on the teacher's passion for the subject and their excitement to pass on their knowledge to students. The flexibility of the class development process allows teachers to adapt their interests into the curriculum but also provides inconsistent standards for classes developed by different teachers.

Last updated: March 15, 2023, 10:05 a.m.

Sophia Zeng. Hi! I'm Sophia and I am the Internal Managing and Humans of Blair editor. I enjoy playing the piano, biking and listening to music. More »

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