Allison Zmuda and Heidi Hayes Jacobs to Present on Quests at ASCD Annual Conference

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questsOne of the primary challenges with today’s curriculum is that it focuses on the past instead of the future. How will students grow if they are focused on outdated material? A curriculum quest sets out to solve that problem through student-driven investigation of contemporary issues, problems, themes, and topics with the goal of producing something of value: innovative solutions, texts, and ideas.

To take a look at the Todays Meet conversation from the session, click PLquest – Transcript – TodaysMeet.

To take a look at Quest ideas from the session, click here.


“There are so many different definitions swirling around about what personalized learning is to sell products or platforms,” says Zmuda. “This session describes the heart of personalized learning and how to operationalize it K-12 looking at a powerful charter school that was built from the ground up on personalized learning.”

The session will first outline what a curriculum quest is: a question that has a feeling associated with it – a movement, action, or pursuit – where the journey is as rewarding as the possible outcome. Perhaps a student is concerned over senseless gun violence that impacts the neighborhood or whether the universe has a purpose. The scale of those projects is great, which is why it taps into long exploration of a deep subject.

The more students explore these questions, the more they want to make sense of it. There also are specific products, performances, services that are a result of the Quest that provide authentic context and audience.

How it compares to how we currently do school

When the critical step of looking forward is missed, we are restricted by “what we know” and “what we are able to do.” In a sense, many schools and leaders compose well-intended but antiquated curriculum reminiscent of the past century. It is critical that we move beyond the familiarity of pressing the constant replay button to become active researchers and developers of innovations and new directions.

“We should pay attention to school faculties, leaders, and individual teachers who are actively and boldly upgrading curriculum content to reflect timely issues and problems and crafting modern assessments such as digital-media-global project based learning opportunities,” writes Hayes Jacobs in her post, Against Technology (the word).

Modern content is probably the biggest challenge, along with how to determine what merits a quality inquiry. The real upgrade is to modernize content so that students are diving into timely issues, problems, themes, topics, and case studies.

Parameters for quests

The key question is: How do we create opportunities for intellectually and emotionally rich learning?

First we leverage what students are intrigued by, passionate about in relation to key topics that are already within the scope of the curriculum. Second, we are re-imagine those topics to engage our students in the examination, the inquiry, and the creation of information and ideas.

Key criteria for curriculum quests include:

  • Genuinely perplexing
  • Open to multiple entry points
  • Inherently interdisciplinary
  • Honors diversity of perspectives
  • Expectation of investigation and creation
  • Ongoing cycles of reflection and action

Finally, we are leveraging digital, media, and global literacies to investigate and create the result of our inquiries. Start with the four global competencies developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society: investigate the world; recognize perspectives; communicate ideas; and take action.

Then, consider these five basic instructional approaches to reinforce them: use digital apps (like Gapminder or Newspaperman); make point-to-point connections via Skype or Google Hangouts; use social media to connect with global hashtags and networks; and refer to global projects such as those of the Pulitzer Center, Out of Eden, 100 People Portrait, and Flat Classroom.

Join Allison Zmuda and Heidi Hayes Jacobs on Sunday, April 3, from 3:00 – 4:30 at the ASCD Annual Conference for a deeper look into quests and a sneak peek into Hayes Jacobs’ upcoming book with her colleague, Marie Alcock, on A New Kind of Teacher; A New Kind of School.

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