MHPSD hard at work implementing new curriculum

The finalized version of the new curriculum wasn’t released until April of 2022, and Medicine Hat Public School Division’s superintendent of universal design and learning, Jason Peters, says “we had to think of the best way to support our teachers with this curriculum, which didn’t have a ton of time and teacher consultation in it.”

Implementing Math and English Language Arts and Literature for K-3 and the new Phys-Ed and Wellness curriculum for K-6 were mandated for the 2022-23 school year.

“What we tried to do as a division was have a range of different ways teachers could have opportunities to have professional learning and also planning time for them to be able to deliver the curriculum,” said Peters

While there are elements that carry over from the old curriculum, there are also significant differences. In language arts, Peters says a more prescriptive approach is required.

“Structured literacy is based on the science of reading, so it has specific strands and measures of where a kid should be at,” he said. “What letter recognition and sounds should they know by this age level and what blends of sound should they know. It lays it out much more specifically whereas the previous one would have referenced it but was not as prescribed.”

In math, concepts that were previously taught in middle school have been pulled down into elementary. As the curriculum is rolled out to higher grade levels, this could lead to some gaps in learning.

“Those are among the challenges that are out there and so we are fortunate in our division that we have a team of instructional coaches,” said Peters.

MHPSD had one instructional day in May and another in June of last year for all the K-3 teachers in the division. One day was focused on English language and the other on math.

Four division-led facilitated learning days, which included planning time, were scheduled for this school year. Additionally, each teacher receives two sub days to use for their individual planning.

“We’ve had them together at the grade level and they’ve connected with each other,” said Peters. “One group representing three different schools of Grade 2 teachers used one of the additional days to get together to plan the next few months. They will use the second day in March to plan the remainder of the year to ensure they are meeting the new curriculum.”

The biggest challenge for the division has been the sub shortage, particularly during times when large numbers of staff were off ill. It’s put pressure on the system but administrators and other teachers have stepped forward to ensure their colleagues can attend the instructional days.

“What we are trying to create is a structure we can recreate as other new curriculums come,” said Peters. “This year science is being piloted K-6 and we do have some teachers participating in that. We are anticipating that next year, if they continue to follow their timeline, (Grades) 4-6 English language arts and math will be mandated.”

The division is confident in the skills of its teachers to continue providing meaningful learning for kids within the new curriculum, he said, adding the instructional days hopefully provided the foundation that everyone was coming at the new curriculum from a common understanding.

“We’ve had positive feedback from our teachers around that process, so we are hopeful it’s helped them feel confident in the implementation.”

One big difference with this new curriculum is implementing multiple subjects at once, he said.

“It’s lots of work for teachers to adjust or to take the material they’ve had previously to ensure it is still in alignment,” said Peters. “We are appreciative of the work our teachers have been putting in.”

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News