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Curriculum Maps and Units of Study

Curriculum Maps and Units of Study

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students examine the structure and elements of curriculum maps and units of study. In addition, students acquire the skills to develop a curriculum map and unit of study.

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Curriculum Maps and units of Study

Source: Image of Curriculum Map, Fair Use, Little Falls Public Schools; Image of Unit of Study created by Jody Waltman

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In this tutorial, we'll take an in-depth look at curriculum maps and units of study. We'll begin by examining curriculum maps and units of study in turn, and then we'll discuss the connections between these two concepts. Let's get started.

First, what is a curriculum map, and what does a curriculum map entail? Well, the purpose of a curriculum map is to outline all of the goals, content, standards, and assessments for an individual course. There are several components that are common to most curriculum maps, and these terms might sound familiar because many of them are also part of the Understanding by Design curriculum templates.

Most curriculum maps include the name of the course, an outline of the specific units of study that are part of the course, specific time frames for either the units themselves or the entire course as a whole, a listing of the aligned standards. These would be all of the standards that are identified as part of the course. These standards need to be both instructed and assessed or measured throughout the course.

Most curriculum maps also include essential questions. Recall that essential questions are the overarching or guiding questions that are used for a course or a unit of study, and their purpose is to extend the learning beyond the classroom. For example, in a biology class an essential question might be, why is it important to study genetics, or how might the study of inherited traits impact society?

Most curriculum maps will also include a content overview. The content overview provides a summary of what will be covered throughout the course and in all of the individual units. So in an algebra class, the content overview might include key terms like integers, algebraic expressions, linear equations, and quadratic functions. A curriculum map may also include a more specific listing of the skills and competencies that students will master by the end of each lesson or unit or by the end of the course as a whole.

Remember, these skills and competencies tend to be described using measurable verbs. For example, students will be able to write a persuasive essay, or students will be able to list several factors that led up to the beginning of the First World War. A curriculum map may also include a listing of specific assessments that will be used throughout the course. This would include both formative and summative assessments and any related performance tasks.

We know that formative assessments are those smaller and more informal assessments that are used frequently throughout a course. They are meant to assess student progress towards desired skills or competencies. Teachers use the results of formative assessments in order to inform their instruction. For this reason, formative assessments are considered to be assessments for learning, because the assessments themselves actually help in the students' learning process.

The summative assessments, on the other hand, are the larger and more formal assessments. These generally are located towards the end of a unit, and their purpose is to assess whether students have actually met the desired competency or skill that they were working towards. So a summative assessment is considered an assessment of learning, because their purpose is to measure the competency level that students have achieved.

And a performance task is a more specific type of assessment in which a student is expected to produce some type of product. It might be a performance, a portfolio, a written composition, a project. These types of performance tasks are generally evaluated using a rubric. All of these various assessments need to be used with the purpose of students demonstrating their content knowledge and their mastery of the competencies.

Finally, many curriculum maps will include a list of resources. This would be a listing of the tools that are going to be essential for the curriculum to be implemented. The list of resources might include, not only textbooks, but also specific technology and digital resources that will be implemented as well.

It's important to remember that one of the benefits of curriculum mapping is that the completed map can then be reviewed in order to identify gaps in either the standards or the content. It can be helpful to review both your own particular curriculum map and the curriculum maps that are created by the people who happen to be teaching the courses at either end of your course, the course leading into your particular curriculum and then the course that students will be taking maybe next year or next semester after your course is completed. The curriculum maps can help you to identify the gaps that might be present at a particular level and that therefore might impact students' ability to progress to the next expected level.

Let's next take a look at units of study. A unit of study is a comprehensive plan that outlines the instruction for just a single topic or time period. You may be familiar with the elements of Understanding by Design. These stages of instructional design can guide you as you plan a unit of study.

Remember stage one of Understanding by Design is to identify your desired outcomes. This is where you would outline the standards and transfer goals that you're going to implement in the unit. You would include the essential questions that are going to help students build understanding and make meaning of the information, and you would list the specific knowledge and skills that students will be acquiring throughout the unit.

In UbD stage 2, you determine the acceptable evidence. This is where you'll plan for all of the various assessments that will take place throughout the unit, not only the performance tasks that will provide evidence of student mastery of competencies and skills, but also any other summative assessments and the formative assessments that you will use to inform your decision making throughout the unit.

Finally, in Understanding by Design stage 3, you'll develop the specific learning plan. This is where you will outline the instruction, the activities that students will be engaging in, and the resources that you'll use during the unit. All three of these stages work together to help you plan the whole unit. Each stage individually includes important components that, when put together, assemble the entire unit of study.

Let's look at a sample curriculum map and a sample unit of study so that we can examine the similarities and the connections between these two types of documents. We'll begin by looking at a curriculum map for a high school geometry course. In this particular curriculum map template, the knowledge and the skills and competencies are provided in the form of essential outcomes.

So these essential outcomes describe both what students are expected to be able to do and what students are expected to know, in terms of content, by the end of the course. These essential outcomes also include the essential vocabulary for the course, and they specify the standards alignment as well. Remember, your curriculum map should identify the standards that are going to be instructed and assessed throughout the course.

If we move to the second page of this curriculum map, we can see the fifth and final essential outcome, and we can also see the first unit of study that is outlined in very basic terms. Again, depending on the template that you are expected to use, this may be all the more complicated that your unit plans get. However, let's take a look at a unit plan for this same basic geometric vocabulary unit that has been developed using a template that is aligned with Understanding by Design.

So using Understanding by Design, in stage 1 of the unit planning process, this is where we would identify our desired results. So it is on this first page of the unit plan that we can locate the standards that will be instructed and measured throughout this particular unit. In this unit plan, we can also see the knowledge and the skills and competencies that students are expected to master by the end of the unit.

On the next page of this unit plan, we can see stages 2 and 3 from the Understanding by Design instructional design process. This is where we will locate the assessment information for the unit plan. This is a listing of the performance tasks and any formative and summative assessments that will be used throughout the unit.

Again, though we're looking at an Understanding by Design template, you may be expected to use different frameworks or different terminology as you are putting together your curriculum maps and your unit plans. So rather than expecting your templates to look just like these or to include the same vocabulary terms as these templates, instead you just want to try to identify those important components of the templates.

For example, the author of your template might consider skills to be embedded within the competencies instead of asking you to list them separately. So as we consider this sample curriculum map and the corresponding unit of study, we can see how the elements of the curriculum map are reinforced in more detail in each of the unit plans.

As we're making specific instructional decisions for all of the units that together make up an entire course, we need to focus on making connections between the standards, the competencies, the knowledge, and the skills that we're presenting to our students and expecting our students to master.

In this tutorial, we outlined the specific elements of curriculum maps and units of study, and then we looked at a sample curriculum map and a corresponding sample unit of study in order to better understand the connections between these two types of documents.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Can you see the connections between units of study and the corresponding curriculum maps? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Curriculum Maps and Units of Study"

(00:00 - 00:17) Introduction

(00:18 - 04:40) Curriculum Maps

(04:41 - 06:09) Units of Study

(06:10 - 08:13) Samples

(08:14 - 09:14) Connections

(09:15 - 09:30) Review

(09:31 - 09:59) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

FCCSC: Curriclum Maps by Grade Level & Subject (Presentation)

To view this Franklin County Community Schools presentation on curriculum maps, click on the link to download the PowerPoint. In the presentation, Brewer and Howell explain what a curriculum map is used for and how to develop a curriculum map. Included in the presentation are an overview of each element in the map, the purpose of those elements, and how to write them.

​FCCSC: Curriculum Maps by Grade Level & Subject (Template)

To use this other recourse from Franklin County Community Schools, click on the second link for a curriculum map template. To view a completed map by subject area, scroll down to click on the link. The completed maps can serve as models as you draft your curriculum map.

How To Develop a Standards-Based Unit of Study

This Kentucky Department of Education site provides clear instructions on how to develop a standards-based unit of study. To access, click on the PDF to download. Beginning on page 10 is a unit of study template that you can refer to as you develop your own units of study.