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HCPSS Curriculum Ventures Online

Posted: September 25th, 2015

HCPSS is known as a leader in teaching and learning, and our curriculum, written by Howard County teachers, is no exception. And now with the new Canvas Learning System, an online platform connecting parents, teachers and students, our teachers have more exciting options for developing, updating and sharing curriculum.

“The Howard County Public School System curriculum is a national model because our teachers, the experts in their content areas, develop our courses and because we regularly review curriculum for improvement and updates,” said Caroline Walker, director of curricular programs, elementary and pre-K-12. “The curriculum helps make sense of the standards while enabling teachers to make the lessons their own for their students.”

Curriculum writing presents professional learning and networking opportunities for hundreds of Howard County teachers, who might seek input from families, community members, students and other experts to update course content. Curriculum writers address the development and curation of resources for a particular course or program, determining what supports and training teachers might need to teach to curriculum standards. HCPSS’ curriculum, with more than 20 curricular programs from pre-K to 12th grade, constantly evolves as standards change while always ensuring that the content speaks to the whole child’s development.

In recent years, trends in curriculum development include a general movement toward national learning standards and the personalization of learning through online student-facing platforms, such as Canvas.

Technology helps enable HCPSS to offer a living, dynamic curriculum that can get revised quicker than printed textbooks. Having the curriculum online also makes the content more visible, and therefore, helps ensure all HCPSS students receive an equitable education by learning the same essential materials.

This past year, HCPSS curriculum writers focused on providing instructional resources for teachers in Canvas, with more than 200 courses now in the new online platform. One outcome from the intensive curriculum writing, involving half the teaching staff, has been increased collaboration throughout the school system. Now that it’s easier to share content and class ideas across schools and even districts, teachers can spend less time and money on lesson planning and focus more on personalization and implementation.

Beyond appreciating Canvas’ intuitive interface and functionality, Amy Raymond, a resource teacher in Early Childhood Programs, said she especially likes that teachers can participate in many professional learning opportunities and share ideas with each other through their content communities online.

“Canvas is a space for teachers to engage in collaboration,” said Bill Barnes, director of curricular programs. “The increased professional sharing will result in better learning experiences for all our students in Howard County.”

One class that has charged forward with student facing online content is AP U.S. History, developed by the HCPSS Office of Secondary Social Studies and offered this year in two sections. In teacher Susan Pennington’s section, 20 seniors attend in person at Wilde Lake High School, while two others participate remotely, one from Reservoir High School and the other from Marriotts Ridge High School. As a blended synchronous class, with both live online and in person offerings, more students can take the course, which is otherwise not offered in every high school in the county. The AP U.S. History master class in Canvas provides the foundation as a living syllabus, which Pennington looks forward to personalizing with her own content such as local Maryland history assignments.

Teaching her first blended class, Pennington has found that “Canvas helps students have access to something that’s immediate and in front of them, whenever they want it. Canvas will also help prepare our students for college because they’ll need to use online platforms there, too.”

Pennington said her students love the online aspects of the class, such as submitting homework, communicating and doing activities–all online. Senior Quez Bradley said, “I like using Canvas because I can look at my grades and do classwork there. It’s easy to turn in and check my work, plus I like the calendar.” Senior Michael Casey believes Canvas will help him prepare for the AP test because “once we get used to the platform, then it will make learning the information easier. It’s better using just one device than reading through textbooks and papers.”

HCPSS is continuing to create professional learning materials and curriculum resources for both teacher facing and student facing courses in Canvas. To learn more about HCPSS’ curriculum, visit, and to learn more about Canvas, visit HCPSS Connect at