Designed Curriculum and Local Culture: Acknowledging the Primacy of Classroom Culture

Kurt D. Squire, James G. Makinster, Michael Barnett, April Lynn Luehmann, Sasha L. Barab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


One of the primary challenges facing designers today is how to design curricular innovations that are appealing and useful to teachers and at the same time bring about transformative practices. While we as a learning sciences community are relatively adept at facilitating innovative case examples, we need more empirical work that examines how curricular innovations become implemented across multiple classrooms. In this paper we examine a series of four teachers implementing our technology-rich, project-based curriculum. We then analyze and discuss each of the four cases across two themes by (a) examining how the project-level question was contextualized to meet local needs and (b) examining the cultural context that surrounded the implementation of the curriculum. Our interpretations suggest that contextualizing the curriculum is ultimately a local phenomenon that arises as a result of a number of factors, including students' needs, students' goals, teachers' goals, local constraints, and teacher's pedagogical values. These cases illuminate the importance of school and classroom cultures in the learning process. Ultimately, curriculum designers need to acknowledge that their designs are not self-sufficient entities; instead, during implementation, they become assimilated as part of the cultural systems in which they are researching while teaching, working in groups, and understanding themselves as learners and teachers. The teacher researchers also perceived themselves as benefiting from the collaborative process. Their responses to an e-mail questionnaire suggested that they found working with the prospective teachers to be stimulating and cheering. They enjoyed the discussions, appreciated the help with demanding activities, grew in their own knowledge about teaching and learning, and valued the opportunities for reflection. However, organizing the group investigation was complex, due to time issues, driving distances, school schedules, unexpected teacher responsibilities, and unpredictable weather.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-489
Number of pages22
JournalScience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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