Cecelia Richard (Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Berlin) and Brian Wolf (Saint Mary, Williamstown) know what it means to teach outside the box. Fifth grade teachers, Richard and Wolf are helping to shape the diocesan science curriculum in South Jersey Catholic schools. In March, they joined fellow K-5 educators to share notes and ideas for Motivator Maps for Educators, a way to bring science to life through literature, history, and hands-on experience.
Dr. Bill Watson, director of curriculum and assessment for the diocese, likens a Motivator Map to a lesson plan. “But it’s less prescriptive. It’s a collection of ideas and resources,” said Watson.
The Motivator Map encourages teachers to begin each learning experience with literature, suggesting the teacher “think like a child” when making a book selection. The book and a video are intended to activate students’ imaginations as they learn a given science topic. Subject experts and “true stories” help students link what they read in the story to science in everyday life. For example, a Motivator Map for instruction about hurricanes includes local meteorologists Adam Joseph and Crystal Wicker and stories about Hurricane Sandy.
Complex thinking is developed with hands-on activities and experiments. Teachers document supplies required for each project and identify how the lesson supports standards across the curriculum, not just for science. The final step is assembly of a box that contains everything needed to teach the unit, including tools and supplies for related projects. The idea is for teachers to share Motivator Maps, which take an average 23 hours to create. Teachers are free to use the maps “as is” or as a springboard for other ideas and approaches.
Wolf meets weekly with fellow fifth grade teacher Jennifer Vidal, and they make sure content in all subjects is linked wherever possible. Although Vidal does not teach science, she collaborated to help create Wolf’s Motivator Map for a lesson about food chains.
“The children do it too. They think across the curriculum,” said Vidal as she and Wolf described the way they work together.
Coincidentally, Wolf and Richard both chose food chains as the subject of their inaugural Motivator Maps. Using different books and activities to teach the same unit, they were able to compare notes and share ideas to enhance their maps and boxes — the exact sort of exchange Motivator Maps developer Bob Keddell hopes to see.
Keddell’s vision for Motivator Maps in the classroom was sparked by after-school and summer camp programs he helped create for organizations such as the National Museum of Natural History and the Baltimore Aquarium. While Motivator Maps offer teachers a way to create dynamic educational experiences for students, Keddell sees great professional value as well.
“The whole idea is a collaborative effort… teachers helping teachers boost each others’ careers,” he said.
Keddell led the Motivator Map sessions with K-5 teachers during recent professional development sessions, while teachers in grades 6-8 continued their work on Writing across the Curriculum with the Penn Literacy Network. Pre-K teachers focused on play-based learning.
“A key pillar for success in the Bishop’s Commission report [on the future of Catholic Schools] is programmatic excellence. We are committed to professional development for administrators and teachers across all grade levels to maintain and elevate our tradition of academic rigor,” said Watson. “Our Catholic schools are embracing creative and effective approaches to teaching the next generation. It’s an exciting time for curriculum development in our schools.”