New French, science curriculum coming to Alberta elementary classrooms this fall
The revamped subjects join new math, English language arts and phys ed curriculum
Alberta elementary schools will be required to teach new curriculum in science, French immersion language arts and francophone language arts next year in Kindergarten to Grade 3, the education minister says.
The new material is in addition to new elementary math and English language arts curriculum introduced this school year, which will expand to Grades 4 to 6 this fall.
"We want our students to benefit from the absolute best curriculum possible," LaGrange told reporters at a news conference Friday at the legislature.
Along with the new K-6 physical education and wellness curriculum, which became mandatory in all elementary schools in fall 2022, some students and teachers will be grappling with new programs in four or five subjects this fall.
The French language arts changes only affect students enrolled in French immersion programs and those who attend francophone schools. Those new curricula will also become mandatory for Grade 4 to 6 students beginning in fall 2024, the minister said.
The final versions are now available on the government's website.
Officials say a new French as an additional language program for anglophones will come later.
The minister said there is no timeline yet for the government to release revamped social studies or fine arts curriculum, which prompted substantial blowback when drafts were published in 2021.
Nor is there a timeline for when new curriculum will extend to junior or senior high grades.
The news prompted the Alberta Teachers' Association to say the curriculum rollout has been so rocky, the government should pause the introduction of any new subjects or grades.
"Everything Everywhere All at Once might be an Oscar-winning concept for a movie, but it's a lousy way to implement curriculum," association president Jason Schilling said at a news conference.
LaGrange says it doesn't make sense to use science curriculum written in the 1990s, before most people carried cellphones or had access to the Internet.
The new lessons will be mandatory for about 240,000 students next fall.
The province says 942 teachers are pilot testing the French and science curricula with 22,000 students in 240 schools in 47 jurisdictions this year, including public, Catholic, francophone and private, charter, and international schools.
Those teachers gave feedback to help refine drafts released in May 2022. Technical documents from the education ministry say changes to the science curriculum include the addition of more content related to agriculture and dinosaurs.
The bumpy road to new curriculum
On Friday, LaGrange said the feedback from the science and French pilots has been positive. She said school divisions haven't raised concerns about adapting to the other new curriculum.
Schilling said teachers have a different view: "It has not gone well."
Although the province has earmarked about $100 million for schools to implement curriculum this year and next, Schilling said teachers struggle to find substitutes so they can take time for professional development or collaborate with colleagues.
Finding resources that work with the new expectations has also been a challenge. He said some teachers have paid out of pocket for textbooks or programs. Some math teachers say the government-recommended resources aren't working, and now they're scrambling for alternatives.
The association released the results of an internal, online survey Friday of nearly 1,000 of its members, where the majority said they did not have the necessary resources or training to launch the new curriculum in fall 2022.
Schilling accused the province of rushing because a provincial election is slated for May 29.
The new math expectations have been particularly frustrating, as children lack the background knowledge to grasp concepts that have been moved to earlier grades, Schilling said.
Among those children are Adysson Yon, 12 and her brother Jaxson, 10, of Calgary. Their parents said they received a cursory note at the end of the last school year saying the Grade 4 to 6 classes would participate in the optional pilot of the new math curriculum.
For the first time since they started school, the kids came home and said they were having trouble grasping the concepts presented in math class.
"We've heard, 'I'm not smart enough. I'm not getting it because I'm not smart,'" Robyn Yon said.
The Yons started speaking with other parents, whose children were also falling behind.
Jaxson will have new curricula in four subjects next year, while his sister moves to junior high, where she'll revert back to current curriculum.
The Yons say the rollout seems rushed and poorly planned.
"If you're going to implement new curriculum, then how are you doing that in the best interest of the student?" Robyn said. "None of that has been addressed or talked about."
Teachers have also said new curriculum tries to cram too much content into a year. Officials said Friday they have slimmed down the content in both French and science from the last draft.
Francophone boards say curriculum has improved
Francophone school boards were also concerned about a lack of Franco-Albertan culture and history included in previous drafts.
Tanya Saumure, president of the Fédération des conseils scolaires francophones de l'Alberta, which represents the four Francophone school boards, says the final version is better.
The boards are struggling with a lack of resources in French, but she hopes a government grant will allow them to quickly find or produce the right materials for September.
The new K-6 science curriculum introduces the concepts of Indigenous peoples' connections to nature and use of natural materials in kindergarten. Indigenous critics have said previous drafts' inclusion of their language and culture was tokenistic and inappropriate.
The curriculum also preps kindergartners for coding by teaching them about the importance of having a sequence of instructions. By Grade 2, they'll be taught about "debugging.".
While earlier grades reference the environment and human impacts on nature, Grades 5 and 6 have units on climate change.
With files from Lounan Charpentier