Lessons learned adapting US resources to the UK curriculum

By Craig Jamieson

Born out of the frustration of founder Adam Blum of finding high quality, curriculum aligned videos and games for his teenage son, OpenEd.com now has around a million resources tightly aligned by machine learning (having computers doing most of the work) to various curricula, such as the USA’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and most recently, the National Curriculum (England) in Mathematics. OpenEd has recently gained recognition from the US Department of Education for its work on organising open source educational resources. 

Following their attendance at the BETT 2016 conference in London, the team at OpenEd sensed that the time might be right to begin to offer users in the UK access to their resources. I set out to align the 35,000+ mathematics resources on the site to the updated National Curriculum, learning a lot along the way about curricular, and cultural similarities and differences with our friends ‘across the pond’.

The National Curriculum in England was introduced in 1988, aiming to standardise the content taught across schools. It was reviewed, beginning in 2011, to bring the curriculum, and its philosophy and structure into line with the top performing countries in the world, objectives shared by the Common Core State Standards development group around the same time.  Interestingly, this similarity in approach has filtered into the curriculum in numerous areas, making my job easier.

Take this standard on estimation of volume:

 5.MD.3 – Recognise volume as an attribute of solid figures and understand concepts of volume measurement – 5 – Measurement – Ma5_3.1e – estimate volume and capacity.

The UK standard at this point is estimation (which is covered in earlier Common Core Standards) but both are not quantitative and both are around the same grade/age levels.

Of course, there are notable differences in approach and content, some of which stem, in my opinion, from culturally ingrained differences in mathematical education.  Statistics is classically tackled earlier in a child’s education in the US, leading to a greater level of depth in later years making our US counterparts a little more au fait with statistics in general (there are even popular Hollywood movies about baseball statistics!)

Broadly speaking though, a child could easily make the transition between the two systems, with a little readjustment here and there in the Primary level.

Curricular change is never easy or straightforward, and getting to grips with a new, or updated mathematics curriculum can be difficult for teachers and parents, whichever side of the Atlantic you are on

At Secondary level, the CCSS designers have deliberately slowed the pace and increased depth of learning to facilitate a greater understanding of concepts in mathematics.  This is apparent in comparing the absence of Calculus in US High School math, to the UK A-Level curriculum being steeped in Calculus from the outset.  Of course, prospective STEM degree candidates in the US can access ‘Pre-Calculus’ courses prior to university and college, preparing them for tackling advanced mathematical concepts.  This is by no means a negative reflection on the US however, as any A-Level teacher in the UK will freely admit that lack of understanding of ‘the basics’ regularly hold students back from progressing with more difficult concepts.

Also, there is a move away from the traditional pathway of ‘Algebra 1’ being a year long, total immersion in algebra, course in the US.  This ‘traditional pathway’ model is a scary one to UK teachers, who have nothing but admiration for US colleagues who can maintain engagement with algebra for an entire year! 

The UK standards also focus more on Calculus in the higher levels whereas the CCSS stop at Trigonometry. Some Germans joke that the reason for the focus on Calculus is the English pride about Newton.  

Curricular change is never easy or straightforward, and getting to grips with a new, or updated mathematics curriculum can be difficult for teachers and parents, whichever side of the Atlantic you are on. It is vital then, that efforts are made to source high quality resources that are aligned to the curriculum you are working within, so that teachers can teach, and parents can understand the approach and content to best help their child achieve and build confidence and understanding. 

W: www.opened.com 


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