Summer Curriculum Writing Institute is a Digital Success

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Oct. 31, 2013

Summer Curriculum Writing Institute is a Digital Success

Material developed by Trinity University education alumni, colleagues downloaded at phenomenal rate from Coates Library

By Susie P. Gonzalez

Laura AllenSAN ANTONIO - After a stressful and tiring school year, Lauren Lee '04 '05 rediscovered her love for teaching by attending a weeklong Summer Curriculum Writing Institute at Trinity University.

Lee is among an estimated 250 alumni of Trinity's Master of Arts in Teaching program and select colleagues who have returned to campus during the summer to write curriculum for the following year. The Institute is the brainchild of Laura Allen, associate professor of Education, who follows guidelines of Understanding by Design (UbD), a tool that provides a curricular template.     

"Often at the end of a school year I can't imagine going back to teaching because, even though I love my work, it's so exhausting," said Lee, who teaches 9th and 10th grade English as well as a 10th grade American literature honors class at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo. "The Institute reconnects me with my passion, reminding me of why I became a teacher and energizing me for the year to come."

Part of the Institute's mission is to share the curricular materials with other teachers - even those with no connection to Trinity - by sending materials to Trinity's Digital Commons housed at the Coates Library.  Thus, the fruits of the workshop are freely accessible and downloadable to anyone.

In the eight years of the Institute's operation, more than 265 curricular units have been placed in the Digital Commons, Trinity's online institutional repository.  More than 366,000 units have been downloaded - making the Understanding by Design units the most frequently downloaded materials in any subject represented through Trinity's Digital Commons. 

 "When you compare that number to downloads for other academic materials, it's quite high. It shows the usefulness of the units," said Chis Nolan, associate University Librarian, adding, "The curriculum does provide a major free service for the educational community."

Jane Costanza, who oversees the repository as head of Discovery Services at the library, added that some individual units have been downloaded upwards of 10,000 times. The category with the highest number of downloads is "junior high, intermediate, and middle school education and teaching."

Mollie Cason '09 '10, a 6th grade English teacher at Jackson Middle School in San Antonio, understands the need for those units.

"During the year, it's often difficult to find the time to sit down and plan an entire UbD unit with all the other responsibilities and paperwork we have as teachers," she said. "Using the UbD model is such an effective tool, because you start with the end in mind and all your teaching activities work toward that end goal. Getting the time to plan during the summer helps ease the workload during the year and means you have strong, engaging lessons for students.

Cason said the summer workshop gives her a "refreshing boost" along with a pleasant opportunity to reunite with grad school friends. "Every year we get to learn something new, and that keeps me motivated to continue growing as a teacher."

Alex Serna-Wallender '08 '09 is currently pursuing a master's degree in divinity at Princeton Seminary, but he taught 7th grade science for several years at Jackson Middle School and attended multiple summer curriculum workshops.

"It was actually the ability to attend the Summer Curriculum Writing Institute that helped to bolster my confidence (since) I was able to take time to really map out where I was going and do some investigating," he said. "Middle school science is broad but shallow, and UbD gave me the ability to map out what I needed to cover, developing it in a logical way that got at the heart of student learning."

Allen said the program has helped meet her goal of retaining teachers early in their careers by providing a forum for them to write curriculum and connect with former colleagues and other current teachers, noting that 94 percent of participants are still in the classroom. Through Trinity's Center for Educational Leadership, she has been able to provide a travel stipend averaging $550 to the Trinity alumni who attend.

And, Allen added, "The week feels like a big family reunion."

Susie P. Gonzalez is director of public and media relations at Trinity University and can be reached at