Pages Navigation Menu

Education – Investing in our Future – Curriculum Development

This is the second installment in my Education – Investing in our Future series. You can read the first post here. I also hope to set the tone throughout this series by providing you with statistics and infographics. Here are the lowlights statistics of the week:

  • Every year, 1.2 Million students drop out of school (works out to 7,000 per day).
  • These dropout students are 8x more likely to go to prison, will earn less than half as much as college graduates, and are not even eligible for 90% of new jobs.
  • When compared to other countries’ college readiness, the United States currently ranks 24th in Math, 21st in Science and 15th in Literacy

Now, let’s get back to the purpose of this series – coming up with solutions versus wallowing in self-pity about our education system. The Colorado Technology Association strongly believes that industry is a crucial part of the solution. We are starting to work with several of the school districts in Colorado, and today’s focus will be on a Curriculum Development exercise we did with the Adams 12 Stem Magnet Lab School. I was honored to be part of the exercise, and I am humbled to see how that school’s administration drives success with creativity, collaboration, and good ole fashioned work ethic.

The goal of this Curriculum Development exercise was to come up with project-based learning opportunities. In fact, we even brainstormed project ideas that could be used across several grade levels. The scope would vary based upon the grade level. Here were some of my favorites from this exercise:

  1. Mow-Down or Mend?

I loved this idea because I appreciate seeing it first hand from the work done by Larimer Associates with properties like Larimer Square. The project definition was this: If you have an old, run-down property, do you renovate it? Or do you “mow it down” in favor of a strip mall or multi-tenant residential dwelling?

Larimer Square - Restoration and renovation versus common strip mall

You could divide the students into project teams. Younger students could be tasked with drawing a renovated building versus drawing a new, shiny shopping center. Older students could be tasked with (1) researching historical significance of the building as well as other “gentrification projects”, (2) working within a budget to restore the building and bring it up to modern codes, (3) evaluating the social impact of gentrification projects, and (4) estimating the job creation differential between boutique shops versus large name brand retailers.

  1. Gotta Pay to Play

Some of these STEM schools are brand new facilities servicing the K-12 grade levels. The project definition was this: Here is your budget. You have no playground. Design your playground while staying within budget.

The same team approach would apply to this project, and tasks could vary by age group. I still like the younger kids to be tasked with drawing their ideal playgrounds, and they could be guided with instructions on providing a variety of play areas, tables, and perhaps even shade and landscaping. Instructors could still constrain them to stay within budget. Older kids could be tasked with preparing student surveys to get input regarding the desired play equipment. They could also research the pricing for different play apparatus and materials of construction as well as regulations regarding crash zones and safety codes. Perhaps these older kids could even be constrained by schedule, so they could learn basic project planning.

  1. Transportation Time Travelogue

The attendees at this curriculum development exercise recognized that several of the students would be bused over long distances. Project definition: Document your travels.

Student travelogue while busing to schools

The goal is to reward the artists, the poets, the videographers and the reporters for documenting their long travels. Reward “mixed content” creativity regarding the use of video, photography, interviews, poetry and sketches.

Outstanding ideas came from this curriculum development exercise. Volunteers could have stopped there and “called it a day”. Put a check mark next to the “volunteer” bucket list item! However, the creativity of this event generated an excitement to take it to the next level. Several of these attendees continue to cycle through the Adams 12 classrooms as guest speakers and panel members for project reviews. And that is where we will truly make a difference, folks!

Please use the comment section below as an opportunity to crowd-source similar project ideas. Future posts in this series will include an interview with those creative Adams 12 administrators. I will also provide more details around “projects/demos in a box” where the CTA Education Committee is looking for repeatable solutions to take into the classrooms and get kids excited about STEM, education and the world around them!

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes…

A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” — Forest Witcraft

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Be Sociable, Share!

Brian Vickery

I love my wife and two daughters. I am blessed in that I also love my job as a principal and EVP of the Rocky Mountain Region for Mantis Technology Group. I am excited to promote our Pulse Analytics social media monitoring and sentiment analysis solution as well as our core software development and business intelligence services. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin. You can find Brian on .

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle PlusYouTube


Hi Brian, Great article! I represent the PMI Educational Foundation our goal is to teach K-12 students the 21st century life, learning and professional skill of project management. I would love to speak with you about sharing some of your ideas on our website,

Brian Vickery
Brian Vickery

I am all for it, Diane. And feel free to guest post on your Educational Ideas on my blog. My goal is to best prepare our youth with education and real-world exposure...while also encouraging a strong work ethic and desire to be both creative and highly productive.

Ellen Bremen (@ChattyProf)
Ellen Bremen (@ChattyProf)

Brian, I am enjoying this series, as always. I love the ideas and wonder what an early childhood education class would do with these prompts. My neighborhood is creating a STEM school right now, slated to start in Fall 2012, due to overcrowding. It has received positive and negative buzz. We are going to lose students from our public school as are other schools in the area. I'm leaving our daughter where she is because her teachers know her and she already receives special support in academics, but I'm curious to see how this shakes out. What is interesting is that the parents are putting the kind of time and passion/energy that you speak of into creating and building this school, which is incredible. Only time will tell, but I hope it's a positive thing for the neighborhood and for the kids who end up going there. It sounds like it will be! Ellen

Brian Vickery
Brian Vickery

STEM schools definitely take a cooperative approach in terms of involving parents. What makes this school unique, and other districts doing the same thing for their STEM campuses, is the active pursuit of industry partners. Yes, they are looking for grant and internship/externship opportunities. However, they also just want more adult involvement to get kids excited about their infinite world of possibilities. Good luck with that STEM school. I like most of their approaches.

Jay Oza
Jay Oza

Brian, Good post. and you got me thinking. so thanks. Here are 5 things I would do if I were a teacher: 1) Selling: Teachers are very good at teaching, but not good at selling why kids need to learn a subject she is teaching. TV does a good job at selling, but lousy job at teaching, 2) Reading: There is too much focus on quantity over quality, meaning that I would spend lot of time on one book or one story so kids really get it. Also, let kids read what they want so they get into a habit of reading. Habit is more important than motivation. 3) Writing: Let them write about their day, so they don't have to think too much. Encourage them to watch TV, as long as they are going to bring in a page of what they watched and what they learned from the program. Two things will happen: either they will find another activity real soon or become a good writer. 4) Gamefy: For subject they are studying, let them come up with ten questions. If the teacher or a another student answers it correctly, you get one point; if the teacher or another student can't answer it and you know the answer, then you get two points; if no one knows the answer, then you get three points if you research it and get a plausible answer. The point of this is not the game, but to get kids to think. Schools are very good at teaching kids to come up with answers but not how to come up with questions. 5) Storytelling: This is a very important skill that kids need to be taught very early on. Also, let kids know that learning right now is easy since they are being tested and can correct any potential weakness. When they grow up and finished with formal education, they are responsible for learning and testing. This way they know that learning is a lifelong thing and see their role in a much broader perspective.

Brian Vickery
Brian Vickery

This is an outstanding contribution to the comments, Jay. I wholeheartedly agree with both your perspective and your suggestions. Very cool perspective on a teacher selling why kids need to learn their subject. I am a huge proponent of reading. In fact, my wife and I both read to our kids up to about middle school, and then my senior daughter last year had me read to her again...Frankenstein, My Ishmael, etc. They love to read, but they also love a good storyteller. And that is why I love you pointing out the important skill of storytelling. Thanks for stopping by, Jay. Great and insightful commentary.

Janet Callaway
Janet Callaway

Brian, aloha. Already I am receiving quite an education for your series. These statistics appall me: 'When compared to other countries’ college readiness, the United States currently ranks 24th in Math, 21st in Science and 15th in Literacy' Good grief, Brian, there is not excuse for that. No wonder you folks are so fired up. Thank heavens you are taking action and doing something about it. The exercises you did with Adams 12 are terrific and I could see how they could be so beneficial. Because of the way you laid out the Project definition and then your comments, I found myself drawn into the project so I can well iamgine how it must be when you folks are together. The one that appealed to me the most was drawing the playground and staying within budget. So many lessons/decisions would be involved with that task yet the project/the playground is familiar to all. Look forward to the next increment, Brian. Until then, aloha. Janet

Brian Vickery
Brian Vickery

I got so much out of that curriculum development exercise, Janet. I definitely liked the playground because every kid could relate. I loved the "Mow Down or Mend", also because I've enjoyed seeing the gentrification projects going on in Denver. Just hoping to make a difference...and pass along a little excitement and enthusiasm along the way ;)


  1. [...] Education – Investing in our Future. You can catch up by reading the Series Introduction and Curriculum Development posts. This post will focus on one of our recent brainstorms – educating our kids on the [...]

  2. [...] to STEM Magnet Lab School when their administrators reached out to business partners to help with curriculum development. I became so enchanted with these educators’ passion and willingness to explore project-based [...]