Hidden Curriculum

This past Thursday was the start of a new semester – a new group of students and a new opportunity make some changes to my teaching.  It’s always refreshing!  I have often said that one of the best parts of being a teacher in a semestered school is the chance to “reboot” twice a year.  You can build on all of the successes from the previous semester, and let all of your mistakes dissolve away.

Over the past few years, I have worked hard to refine my “Intro Day Presentation”  (although, it actually spans multiple days.)  I have written about this presentation in greater detail here.  The most recent addition to my presentation is a focus on the aspects of my classroom that I deem the “hidden curriculum.”

A hidden curriculum is often thought of as the “lessons” learned in an educational environment that were not openly intended.  According to Wikipedia, the concept of the hidden curriculum “expresses the idea that schools do more than simply transmit knowledge, as laid down in the official curricula.”  My hope is that by exposing the hidden curriculum of my classroom to my students, then they will have a better sense of what is truly important for their learning.

So far, I have identified 6 items in my hidden curriculum:  Collaboration, Self-Directed Learning, Problem Solving, Making Connections, Creativity, and Character Education.  I say my hidden curriculum because I think that a hidden curriculum is very much a by-product of the type of learning environment a teacher creates (often unconsciously).  By definition, a hidden curriculum is not overt.  It has been through a process of reflection I have realized these items are embedded skills that my students are required to develop in order to be most successful because my teaching strategies and my assessments rely on the skills of my hidden curriculum.

Below, I have given a brief summary of the language I use when explaining these items to my students.

1. Collaboration

“To learn Physics, you will need to rely on others for support.  You will also benefit greatly from being an active contributing member of our learning community.  The more you are able to give (using your own talents), the more you will get from this course.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills of collaboration.”

2. Self-Directed Learning

“Learning Physics cannot only happen for one hour each day.  You will need to look for opportunities to learn about Physics outside the walls of the classroom.  You will need to reflect on your strengths and your weaknesses, and seek out opportunities to improve your skills.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills for self-directed learning.”

3. Problem Solving

“Physics is about understanding the natural world.  In order to build your understanding of Physics you will be asked to solve challenging problems.  Some problem solving will occur by applying concepts of Physics to difficult questions.  However, you will also be using your skills for problem solving when working with others, designing and building projects, and performing inquiry investigations.”

4. Making Connections

“Physics connects to our lives in a multitude of ways.  I will do my best to bring those connections into our classroom so that you can learn about the cross-curricular nature of Physics.  As you learn about Physics, begin to look for those connections on your own.  You are encouraged to share your insights with the rest of our class in order to help others see the connections to their life also.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills for making connections.”

5. Creativity

“Learning of any kind is a personal journey.  You are encouraged to be creative in the ways that you choose to learn Physics, and the ways that you communicate your understanding to your teacher and your peers.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to develop your creativity in how you express yourself, how you solve problems and how you contribute to our classroom community.”

6. Character Education

“We cannot learn in a space that does not feel safe.  This year, you will be encouraged to reflect on your personal character and the ways in which you contribute to the inclusiveness of our learning community.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to develop your personal character.  Remember, it’s nice to be nice!”

In recent years, I have really de-emphasized the actual curriculum content of my courses in the first few days of school.  I believe the emphasis should be on establishing a positive classroom community first and foremost.  This semester, I have tried hard to communicate the idea to my students that our Physics/Science course is only the context for learning much bigger skills – skills that extend far beyond our course, or even our school.  I tell them, “If you want to learn the Physics curriculum in a deep and meaningful way, focus primarily on learning the hidden curriculum.  These skills will not only service you well in our course, but throughout your process of life-long learning.”

If you’re a teacher, consider what is your hidden curriculum?  What skills do you expect students to develop that are not part of the overt curriculum?  I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Image Credit:  olaerik