Curriculum mapping: what, how, why (and an example)

For many of my blogs I’ve raised general points, theories and considerations when designing curriculum, but I haven’t discussed specific tools I use in my day job or as part of my ‘supporting teachers and schools as an ASE member’ time.

Having recently saw some graphics on twitter showing road maps of key science questions over the curriculum, made by Stephanie Taylor (@TeacherTaylorS) I reflected that the next step for expressing the England National Curriculum for Science would be a detailed curriculum map.

This blog is therefore about curriculum mapping, providing one (English primary science) and running through some initial analysis.

What is a curriculum map?

Curriculum maps are effectively representations of a curriculum to support developers and users in identifying progression, alignment and coverage. The road maps produced by Stephanie can be considered a curriculum map in they show progression of key ideas in the curriculum expressed through questions that can be used.

For the work I do on curriculum development I prefer more detail so I can edit the content to support cohesion and progression, add in new content to fill gaps and move content to create a narrative that is best for the context of the development.

The key thing a curriculum map must be is a representation of curriculum content over time that will support discussions about what is taught and when it is taught.

How to make a curriculum map?

The curriculum maps I make are tabular, using spreadsheet software (Excel or an open source version) where the first column is for strands, the second column is for sub-strands, remaining columns for content and it runs horizontally from younger year groups/stages/phases on the left to older on the right.

The cells for each strand/sub-strand at each year can then be populated following the curriculum you have, or content being devised in a development can be placed in.

Often I start a new row within a sub-strand for a new concept or idea within a sub-strand (almost a sub-sub-strand level). This can help track progression of learning within a sub-strand. For example in the strand of biology, and in the sub-strand of plants there are many ideas ranging from plant structure to plant reproduction each of which has their own row of content.

When mapping an existing curriculum it is as simple as that. (Moving things around and using the tools to develop something is makes everything a bit more complex!)

Why make a curriculum map?

Many curriculum around the world are not presented as a curriculum map, rather they are presented in documents with topics/strands/areas of learning with lists of content in each section. Presented like this it is hard to see the progression and links. If there are curriculum maps they are either part of assessment packages or other products and often behind a pay wall.

What the mapping allows for is analysis which can be used to inform edits or to help identify what schools could do to implement the curriculum as effectively as possible.

As a curriculum developer I find a curriculum map one of the best tools in supporting development as it allows me to unpick what the curriculum really means for learning and helps discuss and answer complex questions, including: why is content X in this year? Is content X supported by content lower in the curriculum? Does anything need to be co-taught in the same year as content X? If I want to put content Y in can it fit?

Example: English Primary Science Curriculum

I made (in my own personal time) a curriculum map for the English Primary Science Curriculum as seen in the online programme of study. I only mapped the statutory requirements. It is possible to map the non-statutory guidance but, as that is written as guidance rather than a list of bullet point statements, they require a further level of interpretation on what should be included and something may need rewriting or summarising which may alter the original meaning. The curriculum map can be found here via dropbox.

Now I have the map I can start analysis and making comments. Some of the top things I note about the English primary science curriculum  are:

  • The lack of physics related content is very apparent in Key Stage 1, especially in some concepts like light, forces and sound which are phenomenon the majority of learners are exposed to since birth and will therefore form ideas about themselves based on their experiences. At the moment some of these ideas won’t be challenged until they are 7 even 9 years old.
  • The lack of prior learning for some key concepts e.g.  mixtures is first explicitly mentioned in year 5. It could be argued earlier learning about mixtures, such as solid-solid mixtures, and basic separation techniques such as sorting or sieving will support learning of more complex mixtures, such as soluble solids-liquid mixtures, and separation techniques like using evaporation. Also to really understand dissolving, in year 5 when mixtures are first introduced, learners will benefit from a good understanding of mixture which is less likely if they are only exposed to the concept in year 5.
  • The unit structure of the national curriculum makes it harder to see progression of scientific concepts. For example, in Animals, including humans year 4 food chains are listed in the national curriculum despite food chains appearing earlier, in year 2, in Living things and their environment. As it stands the map highlights this disjoint but it is important to note there is that progression and cross-connection over the national curriculum units. Moving the content in the map regardless of existing unit will resolve this and show the progression better although this then loses the unit/sub-strand level which many schools use as is.
  • There does appear to be some missing content that schools can include. For example, in Year 6 the circulatory system is included including describing the function of blood. The major function of blood is the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body, but there is no mention of the respiratory system which would help explain how blood fulfils its function.
  • Plant biology stops as a separate focus after Stage 3 but becomes wrapped up in more general areas such as living things and in evolution.
  • Chemistry feels very focused and small, which either makes chemistry look undervalued or makes biology and physics look unwieldly. Is that balance of content appropriate?
  • There are some areas in science which look like dead ends which makes me wonder why they are included (dead ends in curriculum are fine but it is good to have a reason for them) For example, weather mentioned in stage 1 doesn’t seem to progress anywhere and rocks in stage 3 doesn’t seem to progress anywhere. This may not be an issue if you add on KS3 content and see there is a connection.

This has implications for teaching and learning. When planning units with the curriculum should I ignore the units as many of them link although are the presented as different units, especially Animals, including humans and Living things and their environment? For some of the concepts that come late should I add in some content earlier to support them or move some of the content down?

There are many more questions the analysis can throw up. Some of these may need decisions made in schools and some are questions that can only be resolved when the curriculum next gets changed during a national reform.

Summary

I hope through this blog I’ve shown the value of a curriculum map, which is a simple tool but can be powerful.

I also hope I’ve shown how it can be useful not just for developers but for teachers as through the act of curriculum mapping you dig into your subject and understand all the connections (and issues) your curriculum has.

It is important to remember that the English science curriculum can be adapted within, and across key stages, if deemed useful to do so by the school. Every statement in the curriculum map can be moved and new content can be added. This means schools, as long as they don’t remove anything, can do what they think is right to resolve any questions they have from a curriculum map.

Personally, as a curriculum developer,  I would recommend this format for presenting each subject within school; to governors, to each other, and even perhaps to inspectors.

A well thought out curriculum map (maybe with notes, comments, changes) can help express your curriculum vision for what school science should look like.

white and black map
Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

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