You are here


Curriculum Update

The latest developments in math, science, language arts and social studies

Westward, Ho! The Lewis & Clark Bicentennial in Class

A good deal is in the eyes of the beholder. That's just one lesson students can learn while honoring the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In an elementary unit about trade relationships, discussions center around how people define wealth, what makes a good deal and more.

During the 2003-2006 bicentennial celebration, educators certainly won't have to trek cross-country to find materials on Lewis and Clark. Lessons featuring audio and video segments, historical journals, maps and more are available free online. Those near the 11-state expedition trail can even experience the celebration live.

The bicentennial is not just for history buffs. Many lessons use a skill-building approach, says Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri Historical Society, which has developed a curriculum based on the five-city National Bicentennial Exhibition that begins in St. Louis. Because Lewis and Clark's team applied multiple disciplines to complete their mission, educators of almost any subject can incorporate the bicentennial in lesson plans.

"It's the quintessential American adventure story," Archibald says. But is it the same ol' story? Educators increasingly emphasize diversity in covering Lewis and Clark, such as through the Native American point of view, he explains. "You can say Lewis and Clark discovered the West, but only if you ignore the 200 million people who were already there." Studying the expedition provides "an opportunity to learn about how you empathize with and understand people who are very unlike yourself."

Answering Life's Great Questions

Kids are full of wonder, but classroom talk is generally not. Perhaps that's because the idea of a K-12 philosophy course draws more eyebrow-raising than head-nodding.

Philosophy is, however, becoming more common as part of other K-12 classes, according to the American Philosophical Association's Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy.

How thirsty are teachers for philosophy? The annual Kids Philosophy Slam, which aims to make the discipline fun and accessible, drew more than 4,000 submissions from across the U.S. last year. Founder John Davis of Minnesota, whose background is in art, started the event in 2001.

Children respond to a philosophical question (Last year's was "What is the meaning of life?") with an essay, artwork, poetry or a song. They compete for grade-level awards and the "Most Philosophical School in America" award. The top four high school students debate the question at a national event. Davis is securing a grant to develop a philosophy curriculum.

At least one entire district has participated in the slam, which questions students about war and peace this year. "Often it's one teacher who views it as something engaging and will take the lead," Davis says, adding that philosophy works well to "augment and round off the existing curriculum."

Lewis and Clark As Leaders

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark exhibited some of the same shared leadership strategies touted by management experts today. While the government wanted a single officer in charge, Lewis shared his captain duties with Clark. They trusted each other's

judgment, yet knew when to seek input from the rest of their party, says Larry McClure, education liaison for The National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial.

Back Home: Q&A with Cathy Seeley

Q:During your two years teaching secondary math with the Peace Corps in West Africa, what did you miss most about the U.S. educational system?

A:I missed access to resources. Here, we take for granted access to textbooks for every subject area and even technology. I would never dream of teaching mathematics at the secondary level without technology that lets us make use of graphical and visual representations. There I had no technology of any kind and not even any textbooks. My teaching aid was a chalkboard. (I taught in a large city, so [we] had electricity, including overhead lights and an electrical outlet. But I never found anything to plug into the outlet.)

When I started working with American schools again, I was reminded how rigid our daily schedules are. My schedule in Burkina Faso was a flexible block. A five-hour class might meet three times in a week. I really liked the longer class periods to go more deeply into problems and mathematical ideas. And teachers had a lot of unscheduled time ... to plan and grade papers.

Q:What did your experiences in a country with a host of complex social, political and human rights issues teach you about the importance of education?

A:The solutions to severe problems begin with education. Whether dealing with the AIDS crisis, water shortage or basic ideas about democracy, solutions start with knowledge about issues, as well as wisdom and creativity about how to solve complex problems. I [saw] first-hand the difficulties generated by widespread ignorance and poverty. I also saw the hope for the future of a nation in the young adults I worked with as they became increasingly able to think, discuss, challenge and generate solutions to problems. We must educate young [Americans] so that they can [help solve] our important societal problems.

Q:In what ways have you shared your Peace Corps experience with other educators upon your return home?

A:It's difficult for me to do any presentation without incorporating my Peace Corps experience a bit. My outlook on life and on mathematics education was both reinforced and transformed. I have become an even stronger advocate for making use of our resources, especially technology, to capitalize on the rich mathematics every student can learn in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher. And I believe more than ever in the importance of a rich education for every student, since human resources are even more valuable than material resources. I developed a Web site,

Q:Why was algebra chosen as the focus for your ASK ME-Algebra online math initiative at the University of Texas at Austin?

A:Every [U.S.] community has debated how and when we should teach [algebra. The subject] should be incorporated throughout the grades, not reserved for a course called "algebra." In this way, students are much more likely to succeed when they do take an algebra course. The project, at, implements the best we know about how to make a rigorous algebra course meaningful and accessible to all students.

Q:When you become president of NCTM, on what issues do you plan to concentrate?

A:We will continue to advocate a high-quality mathematics education for every child, especially through professional development of teachers. We also have to explore how we can support teachers as they deal with increasing demands of high-stakes tests and accountability systems. I will promote the notion of personal leadership--that all mathematics educators have to keep learning and reach out beyond our own classrooms and school buildings to promote excellence in mathematics teaching and learning.

A 30-year educator and change facilitator at the local, state and national levels, Cathy

Seeley is president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

College Hopefuls: Ready or Not?

Nearly two out of five college-bound high school seniors surveyed by ACT last year did not take the recommended core college-preparatory courses. "These results underscore the need for educators and parents to start early in counseling students on the courses they will need," says Jon Erickson, the organization's vice president for educational services.

Even of students interested in rigorous science and technology careers, more than six in 10 have no plans to take the core courses. Survey responses came from 332,000-plus students nationally.

Erickson recommends that districts be proactive in setting up formal information programs, beginning in middle school, to educate students and their parents on what courses are recommended for the college bound.