Nearly 70 years ago, Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.
I read the book in Professor William Schubert’s classes at the University of Illinois more than 30 years ago. It was not a long nor very dense book. If you have never read it, you could finish it by this afternoon.
I have it still.
Tyler proposed the radical idea that teachers should spend as much time reflecting on their own instruction as they do assessing their students’ work.
In the introduction to the book, Tyler outlined four fundamental questions which should be answered in developing any curriculum.
1. What educational purposes do we seek to attain?
2. What educational learning experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?
I take Ulysses on long walks. Always in the morning and sometimes, if Anne is busy, in the afternoon. Every day I pass a car wash and a body shop on Fullerton. Outside the body shop is an inflatable blue man. He is kept dancing by a big fan.
You’ve seen many like it, I’m sure.
The physics of it is simple. As long as the fan is running, the man will remain inflated because once inside, there is no place for the air to go. It flaps around in the wind.
When I taught fourth grade Art, the common theme running through the year was the built environment.
But for one project, I wanted to give the students an opportunity to build something on a grand scale.
In classrooms we are so used to working small.
On a desk.
Sometimes on the floor. Rarely do we venture outside of the room to do our work.
How could I give my students the sense that they could build an environment that was big? Really big! With their own hands? One that they could go inside and outside of.
Like a building?
In 45 minute time chunks of class time?
Once a week?
I found my answer in the physics of the dancing blue man.
With duct tape and plastic drop cloths, paint and a window box fan.
Three – sometimes four – classes of fourth graders painted the plastic drop cloths. We folded them in half and sealed it with the duct tape, then taping one open end to the box fan. A few minutes after the box fan was turned on, the plastic tube would totally inflate.
Each class made tubes in multiple 12 foot sections. We taped the tubes together.
Depending on the number of fourth grades classes I had that year, it would stretch hundreds feet. But there is no real limit to how big the tube can be once it is inflated.
I suppose it could go on for miles and miles.
It could be deflated and rolled up at the end of class.
One year we took it outside and, with the help of the janitor, it went over the roof of the school.
Another year it stretched from the end of the hall where the Art room was all the way to the front office at the other end of the building.
To the surprise – and dismay – of the principal.
Using an Exacto knife, a door for entry or exit could be created at any point with any escaping air easily replaced by the constant flow from the box fan.
Students could enter and walk the entire length of the tube.
Curricular purpose? Organizing an experience? Observing and reflecting on what was learned?
It was all there, Ralph Tyler.
Not a test in sight.