Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mapping on the Mind...

At my school, 2012 began with the beginning of a journey: curriculum mapping for our entire school’s curriculum. Now, it is not as though our school had not engaged in mapping before. Various divisions and departments had mapped curricula over the years, but this is different. This time we’ve been given a software program known as Atlas Rubicon, peer leadership through the creation of a curriculum committee and our own, department-specific time lines, complete with semester goals.

Prior to the advent of this school-wide initiative, our library services and technology departments had been viewed as separate, nor were we officially recognized (read:legitimized) as a “department”. This is not to say we did not collaborate andview ourselves as a department; on the contrary, we did, but our fledgling school has been evolving and, with it, the groundwork was laid for establishing our place within the academic community. It is with great enthusiasm that we began the new year, with the birth (and naming!) of our LibraryInfoTech department.

Naturally, our enthusiasm has been tempered at times with a degree of trepidation: curriculum mapping for grades PreK-12 is a daunting task. Then there’s the name of our software: “Atlas Rubicon”. This name--so austere and futuristic sounding--possesses a sci-fi, dystopian connotation for me. The things I heard from colleagues who’ve had the Atlas experience at their schools did not bode well, either: “It’s a beast”, “a hellish experience”, “such a headache”...and on and on.

I put stock in the opinions and insights of my colleagues, so I do have my apprehensions. There is a great deal of data and content to be agreed upon and entered into the Atlas Rubicon software. That being said, I feel like--in the long run--this will be a very powerful tool for us.

Our Process & Template for Unit Design
Using the Understanding By Design (UBD) developed by Grant Wiggins--AKA "BackwardsDesign"--template for instructional planning developed by Wiggins and we must enter our curriculum as units that ask us to complete a 3-stage Process:

Stage 1: “Desired Results”. We begin by selecting thestandards and benchmarks we wish to fulfill along with listing the core knowledge and skills (according to Bloom’s Taxonomy) or key vocabulary to be acquired. Here, too, we must craft “Essential Questions” that will guide the teaching and learning experience for the unit.
Stage 2: “Assessment Evidence”. Here we will enter whatever forms of assessment we will be choosing for our unit.
Stage 3: “Learning Plan”. Here is where all the action lies: Activities are outlined, while modes of differentiated instruction & and resources to be used are listed.

Types of Standards Used: Spoilt for Choice?
As far as standards are concerned, we have been allowed a good deal of latitude for choice. When
creating a unit of instruction, we may select and attach standards from a number of standard sets (New York State, ALA/AASL, ISTE, IB, NYLA, NYC-DOE’s Information Fleuncy Continuum,NETS, 21st Century Skills Framework and ITEA). However, is it better to limit oneself to drawing from only one or two sets of standards...or is that actually limiting? Would cherry picking standards be a help or a hindrance?

Customizing for the Library InfoTech Department
We occupy a unique niche within the school as the only department with what we view as an “embedded curriculum” since--for the most part--the actualization of instruction and curricular goals is tied to our classroom collaborations and/or coordinated “push in” activities. This makes laying out formalized units of instruction a bit more complicated. Since there is no space to lay out spreadsheets detailing skills and benchmarks across the grade levels, only unit design is possible, making it seem like a case of the chicken or the egg.

We are told we have a good chance of being able to customize the Atlas interface so that we may link our units to teacher pages and work collaboratively with teachers within unit templates. At the moment, we are unable to link our skills and units directly to the teachers’ pages, and thus remain a destination one must visit. Ideally, we’d love to see “library and technology integration" have a space somewhere built into the UBD unit template. This would not only encourage collaboration, but would give it a place of purpose within our curriculum and academic community. After all, collaboration should not be the end we strive for, but the means to an end.

Still--even without that function--we will have a searchable database of all units and curricular topics being taught across the grades, which is something we’ve never had before. The search feature seems
powerful--scanning not only the unit plans, but any attachments or notes for the search terms entered. The trick is choosing and using keywords-as a department--to describe certain skills and activities consistently so that our units are tagged in a way that allows for the best search results. Indexing reflexes are set to be sharpened!

Possible benefits to the Library Media Center
A helpful device to aid with collection development: Ordering library resources can be done in a more timely fashion and more strategically. I can pin point more specific texts relevant to particular
units; reading about exactly which activities or topics will be covered will help reveal gaps in the collection.
A useful tool for collaboration: It’s all out there on viewwhenever you want it. This way I can see exactly what units are being done by whom and when, rather than asking around for various maps or scope & sequence documents. This will also assist me the door up for approaching teachers: I can come armed with specific ideas, books or resources tailored to their unit plans.

Keep in mind, that "old chestnut": Rome was not built in a day

 One thing that I take comfort from in approaching this is that we are not expected to finish this for several years...! I believe the projection is that in three years, we should be entirely rubiconed (yeah, that’s my word!).

Mapping Veterans and Comrades...
I am interested in hearing about your experiences with curriculum mapping and curriculum mapping software. What software--if any--did you use? If you used Atlas Rubicon, what was your experience like. Any words of wisdom or mistakes I might learn from? Where or how did the library media program fit into your school’s process? What benefits have you derived from mapping?

Posted by Laura Bishop, Membership Coordinator


  1. Laura, At Friends we also use Atlas Rubicon. It was a huge project to have all the teachers do the mapping and took a long time. It was a great benefit to the library program as we were able to see what was happening in the classroom and find opportunities to collaborate and support classes in ways we were not able to in the past. Keeping maps up to date does become a challenge. Judy James

  2. Thanks, Judy! I am happy to hear you felt it was a benefit to the library. It did occur to me that these maps would be needing fine tuning and modification continuously, though. -Laura