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MSP Workshop: Challenging Courses and Curricula, Sept. 25-27, 2005



The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) specifies that students will have opportunities to enroll in challenging courses and curricula. The NSF-sponsored Math/Science Partnerships (MSP), created as part of NCLB, require grantees to "Ensure that all K-12 students have access to, are prepared for and are encouraged to participate and succeed in challenging and advanced mathematics and science courses" However, NCLB has not provided specific guidelines about the characteristics of challenging courses and curricula in these disciplines.

The January 2005 Project Directors meeting for NSF Math/Science Partnerships was devoted to "develop[ing] a common understanding of what we mean when we speak of Challenging Courses and Curricula and refine plans within individual projects for how that understanding is to be carried forward in both K-12 and higher education." A summary of what conference participants perceived to be characteristics of challenging courses and curricula noted that participants "...often thought about challenging courses and curricula in terms of 1) Content of lessons/units, 2) Accessibility of learning, and 3) Pedagogy of lessons/units/courses." There also was focus on the "program level" for Grades K-12, but rarely for higher education.Other attributes noted by conference participants included rigor, multi-sensory opportunities for learning, quality of courses and programs, opportunities for all students to learn, technology-intensive, appropriate assessments, and standards serving as a basis for such courses but moving students beyond the standards.

The issue of challenging courses and curricula also has received a great deal of recent attention outside the MSP communityIn February 2005 the National Governors Association announced a major new initiative to improve high school educationand the American Diploma Project to improve high-school education.

Clearly, more sustained dialog from a variety of MSP stakeholders will be required before any general consensus emerges about what constitutes challenging courses and curricula within the context of MSPs. From conversations at the MSP Directors' meeting, it is also clear that challenging courses and curricula must be considered within the contexts of student learning, assessment of learning, effective pedagogy, and professional development of faculty in both K-12 and higher education. All of these themes have been the focus of previous National Academies workshops for the MSP community.

Goals and Format of these Workshops:

The two workshops being planned for April 17-19 and September 25-27, 2005 to focus on challenging courses and curricula will build on the insights and expertise from previous NRC workshops on student learning, assessment of learning, teacher education, and the role of higher education in MSPs, the January 2005 Learning Community Conference in Washington, DC, and the dialog that has begun within the MSP learning community on MSPNet .

The goals of these two workshops are:

1. To introduce workshop attendees to the body of research on challenging courses and curricula, as synthesized in National Research Council reports such as Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools; Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards; Adding It Up: Helping Students Learn Mathematics; and How People Learn, and other research literature.

2. To help attendees learn how to apply research on challenging courses and curricula and the emerging discussion within the MSP and other education communities to their own Partnerships.

3. To help the larger MSP community reach consensus on the characteristics of challenging courses and curricula through the discussions that emerge from these two, integrated workshops and through ongoing dialog that will be established through MSPNet.

The format for these two workshops will differ from our previous workshop series:

In all of our previous workshops on a specific topic, the second workshop largely mirrored the first workshop on that topic in content and focus. These two workshops on Challenging Courses and Curricula will be integrated such that the discussions at the second workshop in September 2005 build upon the first workshop in April 2005 and ensuing discussion on MSPNet.

Less time will be devoted to plenary and breakout presentations at these workshops than in previous workshops. A greater proportion of each of these workshops will instead be devoted to enabling participants to help their own MSP projects and the larger MSP community think more deeply about the characteristics of challenging courses and curricula in mathematics and science.

These two workshops are structured so that, depending on its needs and goals, an individual MSP project may wish to participate in individual or both workshops.