Dwelling Between Curriculum-As-Planned and Curriculum-As-Lived in Science Class


Thirty years ago, Ted Aoki described the tension of two curricula in a school classroom (Aoki, 1986; Pinar & Irwin, 2005). One of these curricula is the curriculum-as-planned. It is the given and mandated content as described in curriculum documents that guides the “what” of an educational experience. It is typically made by outsiders, originating in ministry offices or school boards, and travels to the classroom to be taught by a teacher. While the curriculum-as-planned lays out goals and objectives for the year, it is neither concerned with the diverse students that are expected to achieve those goals nor the experiences of a teacher working towards them. These student and teacher experiences, being unique, diverse and dynamic elements of any classroom, are another type of curriculum—a lived one. This curriculum-as-lived encapsulates the hopes, dreams, motivations and curiosity of pupils, their experiences in a school setting, and their past histories, regardless of what the planned curriculum indicates.

Aoki (1986) recognizes that curriculum-as-planned and curriculum-as-lived can often exist in tension. However, he teaches us not to be drawn to either of those curriculum worlds in their extreme. Rather, by dwelling between the two curriculum worlds, educators will be able to provide the best support for their students. This dwelling between the curricula creates a pedagogy that accounts for and celebrates the lives of learners by allowing their lenses to colour and inform the content and practices of the classroom. However, this is not always an easy thing to do. For myself, as a science teacher, this can be especially difficult given my past experiences taking science courses where an emphasis on content, procedures and skills was often promoted to the exclusion of student interest and experience. In addition, these barriers are exacerbated for a novice teacher, because time constraints and familiarity with the planned curriculum often require the most attention. Finally, upon talking with colleagues, and reading some research reports, I realize I am not alone in this tension (Evagorou & Puig Mauriz, 2017; Mansour, 2007). Indeed, some science teachers do not always see how personal, lived and subjective connections can be part of their courses. Thus, the underlying purpose of this essay is to outline a strategy I have used as a science teacher in dwelling between the two curricula. In addition, I will comment on other possible effects of this strategy on classroom function.

“For myself, as a science teacher, this can be especially difficult given my past experiences taking science courses where an emphasis on content, procedures and skills was often promoted to the exclusion of student interest and experience.”

The strategy I have used to begin to dwell between planned and lived curriculum is to bring artifacts of students’ past science or science-related experiences into the classroom. In my practice, these artifacts serve as powerful reminders of students’ lived experiences and can be explored through and connected with science content. As an example, the bobcat skull perched in the back of my classroom reminds me of John’s ancestry in trapping and his love of tracking animals. Similarly, the model airplane wing hanging from the ceiling reminds me of Sarah’s interest in aviation and her inclination to explore different national contexts to better appreciate her own. These objects prompt instances where the voices and histories of my students permeate the classroom space through content-related lenses. Seeing through these lenses, I am provided with meaningful and complex examples of how the curriculum-as-planned can be made more responsive to the unique individuals in class. In John’s case, this meant that our next field trip to explore ecological succession included a conversation and activity on animal tacking. This was followed by a discourse around the conservational, economic and personal benefits of tracking animals.

In addition to providing insight into students’ lived histories, tangible objects of past experiences can also trigger nostalgia (Wildschut et al., 2006). Nostalgia, as defined by Anderson, Shimizu & Campbell (2016) is “a variety of positively- or negatively-toned human emotion that evokes retrieval of past personal memories” (p. 6). In the museum field, these objects have been shown to strengthen socio-cultural identity and elicit heartfelt memories of past experiences (Anderson et al., 2016). From the viewpoint of cognitive psychology, when nostalgic episodes are triggered a host of benefits have been reported. Some include strengthening inspiration (Stephan et al., 2015), creativity (van Tilburg et al., 2015), motivation (Sedikides et al., 2018), and social-connectedness and self-esteem (Cheung, Sedikides & Wildschut, 2016).

Although there is limited empirical evidence of the benefits of using object-triggered nostalgia in a classroom, from the aforementioned studies it is clear that the positive emotions and learning skills these objects can provoke are of use in a classroom setting. In addition, my students have frequently commented on the familiarity and comfort their personal artifacts evoke and how they appreciate sharing their experiences with the class.

That being said, artifacts can also evoke negatively-toned emotions. As an example, I’ve had a student remark that almost all of his past science experiences reminded him of boring, lecture-style initiatives. Clearly, if these feelings are promoted in a classroom, the positive effects described above may be tempered. However, I, like others, have found that if these negative emotions are reflected upon for meaning, insights into their cause can be made apparent (Zembylas, 2011). In this sense, the artifacts do not always have to be used to provoke positive emotions and learning skills. Instead, they can be used to reflect upon a situation with an eye to better it here and now. When applied to science class, artifacts that evoke negative emotions can be used as a reflective tool for teachers and students to see how their science class experiences could be different, and better, from previous ones. This would not only benefit the classroom environment but serve as another way to bring the lived curriculum to the fore and intertwine it with the curriculum-as-planned.

The purpose of this essay was to highlight a strategy I have used as a science teacher to dwell within the zone between curricula. In it I argued that by bringing student artifacts of past science or science-related experiences into the classroom, teachers will be reminded of and invited into the diverse life histories of their students, becoming better equipped to find moments where the curriculum-as-lived can inform the curriculum-as-planned. These artifacts can also be used to promote students’ motivation, creativity and self-esteem in the classroom. Finally, reflecting on artifacts that evoke negatively-toned emotions can be used to improve the experiences of present science classes.

I would like to thank Dr. Peter Gouzouasis, Professor, UBC, for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay as well as the team at Canadian Teacher Magazine for their support and guidance.

Anderson, D., & Shimizu, H., & Campbell, C., (2016). Insights on how museum objects mediate recall of nostalgic life episodes at a Shōwa era museum in Japan. Curator, 59(1), 5-26.

Aoki, T. (1986). Teaching as Indwelling Between Two Curriculum Worlds. The B.C. Teacher, 65 (3), April/May.

Cheung, W. Y., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2016). Induced nostalgia increases optimism (via social connectedness and self-esteem) among individuals high, but not low, in trait nostalgia. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 283-288.

Evagorou, M. & Puig Mauriz, B. (2017). Engaging elementary school pre-service teachers in modeling a socioscientific issue as a way to help them appreciate the social aspects of science. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology, 5(2), 113-123.

Mansour, N. (2007). Challenges to STS education: Implications for science teacher education. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 27(6), 482-497.

Pinar, W.F. & Irwin, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Sedikides, C., Cheung, W. Y., Wildschut, T., Hepper, E. G., Baldursson, E., & Pedersen, B. (2018). Nostalgia motivates pursuit of important goals by increasing meaning in life. European Journal of Social Psychology, 48(2), 209-216.

Stephan, E., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Cheung, W. Y., Routledge, C., & Arndt, J. (2015). Nostalgia-evoked inspiration: Mediating mechanisms and motivational implications. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(10), 1395-1410.

van Tilburg, W. A., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2015). The mnemonic muse: Nostalgia fosters creativity through openness to experience. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 59, 1-7.

Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2006). Nostalgia: content, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 975.

Zembylas, M. (2011). Reclaiming nostalgia in educational politics and practice: Countermemory, aporetic mourning, and critical pedagogy. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 32(5), 641-655.


Travis Fuchs
Travis Fuchs is a teacher, researcher and writer. As the Independent Schools Association of British Columbia’s Action Research Coordinator, he facilitates a wide variety of teacher research projects that aim to promote meaningful learning for all students. Prior to this, Travis worked as a science and math resources teacher at West Point Grey Academy and began his career as a biology and environmental science teacher at Lakefield College School. In his spare time, he can be found singing with Chor Leoni Men’s Choir or on Twitter @TTHFuchs. Travis holds a master’s degree in science education from Harvard University and is currently pursuing his PhD in the same area at UBC.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2019 issue.

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