I was hired in 2016 as a Math Curriculum Designer for a network of schools in Atlanta and worked on a team with other subject-area designers. When joining the team, a large percentage of the curriculum was already developed and teachers were using it as their primary resource.
Teachers were frustrated with the curriculum, and many stated that they did not want to use it as their main resource. They voiced their concerns to school leaders and the curriculum team.
I discovered why teachers were frustrated, then re-designed the math curriculum structure, and wrote the 3rd-8th grade content. Many of the systems I created for the math curriculum were adopted network-wide.
I interviewed 30+ teachers who were in various grade levels and school locations. I was looking to discover:
After synthesizing, I discovered the following key insights:
I found that most of the issues were global. Teachers spent too much time locating resources in Google Drive and did not find the lesson plan structure and content usable. Many teachers felt overwhelmed, and the disorganization added to their frustration.
The main groups of people using the curriculum were teachers, leaders/coaches, and special education teachers. Although I did not conduct formal research with leaders and special education teachers, I talked with them to discover how they use the curriculum.
To understand the curriculum as a whole, I investigated the structure and determined what to include at each level. This process helped me define each part of the curriculum and ensured the final product would be easy to navigate.
Thinking about the structure also helped me generate ideas, such as:
Using resources from the state and teacher feedback, I worked with my team to create a document that displayed the sequence of the units and how long each would last. This document helped curriculum users see an overview of the year and understand how the content progresses. For example, a 5th-grade math and science teacher would know:
To differentiate subject areas, we correlated each subject to a color. For example, math would always use blue as its primary color.
You can view the Scope and Sequence document here.
To prevent teachers from searching for content in Google Drive, I created a document where teachers could access links to all math units and important documents such as the Scope and Sequence. I found inspiration from Craigslist, as it displays a lot of information and links but is easy to navigate.
You can view the Math Overview document here.
Teachers had a hard time understanding how the content progressed throughout a unit, and finding units and lessons in Google Drive was time-consuming.
I created a pacing calendar with all information needed for a unit. The calendar made information visual and helped teachers understand the flow of the content and how the lessons connect. Each pacing calendar included:
The curriculum team quickly adopted the pacing calendar as it was well-received by math teachers and leaders. Having access to all of the resources in one document made the content more usable and gave curriculum designers a model to follow.
I also made sure that the naming conventions for every document were consistent system-wide. You can view the Pacing Calendar here.
Using the research, I prioritized the information teachers needed to see in each lesson plan. Each lesson included:
There was no structure to the lessons, so teachers had to de-code each lesson plan, which was time-consuming and led to frustration. Using teacher and leader feedback, I created a plan for what each math lesson would include.
To help teachers understand the structure, I included a timeline at the top of each lesson plan. The timeline acted as an overview, showing how long a teacher should spend on each part and the related materials they would need.
I wrote the 3rd-8th grade content and managed revisions for kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. I included problem-based learning activities and engaging practice resources in the lessons, practice, and supplemental resources. For example, in this lesson, students are asked to estimate the number of sticky notes it would take to cover a filing cabinet to explore the concept of surface area.
You can view the Lesson Plan here.
People who used the curriculum stated that it was much easier to navigate and find the resources they needed. Also, the consistent lesson plan structure helped teachers focus on the lesson's content instead of spending time unpacking each lesson. Overall, there was:
After the initial release of the curriculum, I continued to talk to curriculum users and make improvements such as:
When I first arrived, we were continually making structural changes to the curriculum, and found ourselves going around in circles. I saw how important it was to stop, think about the big picture, and make sure the team is on the same page before designing. Doing this prevents foundational issues that become major issues later and are difficult to change. This also creates a system where updates and features can easily be incorporated.
A year later, I was so happy when I came across Object-Oriented UX – this would have been so helpful when I was working on this project. OOUX is an Information Architecture process that helps you understand all of the moving parts of a system and how they relate. Now, I love incorporating OOUX into my design process.
I had previously worked as a teacher, so I easily empathized with their needs, but I found it important to (partially) remove this lens and design without assumptions. Completing research helped me understand teachers' needs and struggles, and many findings were different than I expected.
Through designing the curriculum, I gained valuable experience working on a team. I learned how to state my ideas clearly, be open to new ideas, and see the benefits of working together to solve problems collectively. I also improved my management skills by overseeing curriculum consultants, facilitating presentations to leaders, and working closely with outside software vendors.