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The Purpose of Education: Personal Curriculum

I believe the purpose of education is teaching students how to learn, process, and apply that which is learned. In other words, teach students to think. Students must be given a set of strategies, a thought process, which they will be successful regardless of what their future holds. Future job requirements and challenges may not yet exist. If we as educators do our jobs correctly, our currents students will be able to “switch gears” to meet future challengers.

It isn’t what you know that’s the same as everyone else that brings success to an endeavor. It’s your ability to bring a different knowledge set to thinking, and solving problems that are different, and your ability to bring a new set of knowledge and experience to the task. It is the premise of what I believe teaching is about; developing students who have the ability to critically think and solve problems.

Unfortunately, educational measurements rely on demonstrating a student’s ability to pass standard examinations. The mandate of the No Child Left Behind legislation has resulted in is standards and various government tests, which produces students who are products out of an assembly line. They find their ultimate satisfaction in knowing the correct answers and passing the tests. Instructors in K-12 education are forced to become test-centered, leaving students’ individual needs behind. Students, who fail to meet the standards and pass the tests, are rejected like assembly line products which do not meet specifications, Warnick, Rowe, & Kim, (2009)

Fortunately, students in college allied health programs are subject to an instructional process which places an emphasis on critical thinking skills. Board examinations in all the allied health programs measure these critical thinking abilities. In my field, Respiratory Therapy, there are two board examinations administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). There is a Technician Examination, and a Registry Examination. The higher level Registry Examination has a separate clinical simulation examination which the candidate is required to answer in a cascading fashion. The answer selected to a question, determines the next question.

Theories of Education

In the interests of brevity, I will only identify what I consider the most important theories.

Academic Scientism

This was a theory which was derived from the two schools of academia, and science. It was postulated that the use of science in making decisions about school missions and curriculum content (. Though it was popular between 1890 and 1916 it seems to be as relevant today, as it was then. David Sousa’s book, “How the brain learns”, (Sousa, 2006), is an excellent example of the application of that theory.

Progressive Functionalism

A theory popular in the period 1917-1940 is a combination of John Dewey’s child centered orientation, and Academic Scientism. In John Dewey’s world, child development was paramount. Curricula were developed to appeal to children’s interests, and mathematics and grammar were subjugated. Functionalism, on the other hand was aimed at analyzing adult tasks and incorporating them into curriculum design. The combination of these two opposing theories created some confusion among curriculum designers.

Scholarly Structuralism began as a result of the United States shock over the launching of Sputnik. Science and Mathematics became the focus of curriculum design.

Privatistic Conservatism in curriculum was developed as a reaction to the 60’s ultra-activism. It was the vogue between 1975 and 1989. Family issues and mores became an area of curriculum concentration.

Technological and Modern Conservatism was a philosophy of curriculum development between 1990 and 2000, and Modern Conservatism continues into the present. Benjamin Bloom published Bloom’s Taxonomy which enjoyed widespread use and is still in use in a modified form, today.

Effective Instructional Methods

Fink, D.,(2007, described six types of learning:

1. Foundational knowledge: This is the set of facts, principles, relationships, etc. that constitute the content of a course. This is what we want students to “understand and remember.”

2. Application: Most disciplines require students to do something with the foundational knowledge. This might involve some physical skills (e.g., operating technical equipment); more commonly it involves engaging in some kind of problem solving, decision making, or creative thinking

3. Integration: It is often helpful for students to be able to identify the similarities or interactions between one subject matter and another, or between different theories, historical trends, etc. This is the whole thrust of interdisciplinary learning.

4. Human dimension: When students report that they have learned something in a course about themselves or about how to interact with others in life, this is truly significant.

5. Caring: This is what happens when students change their feelings, interests, or values in relation to a subject.

6. Learning how to learn: Given the fact that we never teach students everything they will ever need to know about a subject, we need to help them learn how to keep on learning about it after the course is over.

Teaching is a fluid process, which keeps changing every time we teach.

When we design a course we develop specific context: To do this correctly we need to answer a number of questions:

How many students are in the course?

What is the level of the course and the time structure?

How will the course be offered?

What are the expectations of others in the educational world, and the community?

Do we have to meet specific requirements of the school, accreditation bodies, community, etc.?

What is the nature of the subject?

How do students feel about the subject?

Do they have prior knowledge of some of the subject material?

What is the epistological belief system of the teacher?

Are they congruent with the expectations of the students?

What are the learning goals?

The first decision in a learning-centered course is about what we want students to learn. As we consider this, we need to go beyond wanting them learn everything about the major topics; we need to formulate more exciting and challenging

learning goals. Fink designed taxonomy of learning goals somewhat different than you find in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Her formulation of learning goals is as follows:

Does the student understand and remember key concepts?

Does the student know how to use the content?

Can the student relate the subject to other subjects?

Can the student see the relevance, value, and need of the subject?

Does the student know how to keep learning about the subject, even after the course is over?

Are their opportunities for self assessment during and after the course of study is completed?

The requirements of the humanities are very different then the requirements of technical programs. Liberal Arts require the examination of a truth by multiple analyses. Technical programs require the examination of factual truths, singularly.

How can we accomplish the above in technical programs? This can be accomplished by utilizing various techniques to meet the three learning domains; cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.

Lectures, meet the cognitive learning requirements, along with case studies, problem-solving, and decision-making exercises. Role playing, to meet the affective domain requirements. Clinical and laboratory experience and practice to meet the psychomotor and affective domains.

The measurement of curriculum success should be, among other things, answering these questions: Can students, by demonstration, have a basic understanding and retention of the content? Can students actual do something with the information? Can students assess each other, and themselves?


The role of accreditation cannot be over-emphasized. College accrediting bodies such as S.A.C.S. and Middle States have specific, strict criteria for accreditation. A facility which has accreditation from a recognized accreditation agency may be viewed as meeting a high educational standard.

In additional to facility accreditation, each institute of higher education allied health program has an additional accreditation process. The accreditation agency for respiratory therapy programs is the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, (CoARC). The requirements for initial and continuing accreditation include completing a self-study annually, and providing surveys of graduates, faculty, students, and clinical facilities such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes. CoARC has an additional benchmarks regarding attrition rates. Rates above 30% require a plan of correction on the part of the Respiratory Therapy program.

In 2009, Shelledy, Dehm, & Padilla at the University of Texas Medical Center examined issued relating to graduate rates, attrition rates, and graduates’ self examination. Measures used to assess an educational program’s success in meeting this included graduates’ performance on the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) examinations, employer evaluations of program graduates’ performance. Another measure of a program’s success included job placement of graduates.

RT educational programs have varying degrees of success in preparing graduates for the NBRC examinations and the workplace.

RT education has been outcome oriented since 1986 (Joint Review Committee for Respiratory Therapy Education [JRCRTE], 1986). In spite of this outcome orientation, little is known about specific program-related factors associated with improved outcomes for program graduates.

The purpose of the study was to determine what, if any, program-related factors in the

Report of Current Status (JRCRTE, 1996a) is associated with improved graduate

performance on NBRC examinations, employer evaluations of graduates, or graduates’

evaluations of the program. The purpose of their study was to determine what factors associated with RT programs are predictive of the performance of program graduates on selected outcome measures.

Interestingly, there was little correlation between faculty size, and graduation rates, (actually a slight negative correlation) and no correlation between the other parameters measured.

On June 18, 1993, the Governor of Massachusetts signed the Massachusetts Educational Reform Act into law. The law addressed and mandated fundamental changes in the state’s public education system. Among the areas affected by the legislation were school finance, school demonstration, teacher tenure and certification, and curriculum and assessment.

In the area of curriculum assessment, new curriculum frameworks and learning standards were created in the academic areas of English language arts, mathematics, science, history and social science, and world languages. A high-stakes, state-mandated performance assessment called the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was designed to evaluate progress in meeting the state’s new learning standards in the curriculum framework. The effect of the release of the test results was examined by Vogler, (2002), Vogler determined that teachers felt that the changes that they had made in their instructional practices were most influenced by:

An interest in helping students attain state assessment scores that will allow them to graduate high school.

An interest in helping a school improve assessment scores.

Personal desire to make changes.

Belief that such changes will benefit students.

Staff development, in which teachers had participated, was also reported by a large percent of the respondents as influencing changes.

Roles of Students, Teachers, and Institutions.

I believe that students, teachers, and institutions should be intimately evolved in curriculum development. Diamond (2007 pp. 16-17) describes the expanding role of faculty and the role of accreditation in curriculum design. Faculty will have the primary responsibility of meeting mandated requirements. Student input will be paramount. Here at Keiser University, students are able to rate faculty performance for each course of study.

In designing the Respiratory Therapy curriculum, I was cognizant of the need of building in additional time for each lesson. As we proceed, I’m grateful that I was conservative in my approach as the additional time proved invaluable and allowed us to make almost instant modification as was required to insure learning. While in the design phase, weekly meetings were held with the Dean of Academics, Associate Dean of Allied Health, and the college campus President. The Office of the Chancellor also was heavily involved with the curriculum design. Each step of the way I had to generate reports for the group, and their input was invaluable.

My Personal Philosophy of Curriculum design

In my opinion, curricula should be designed to meet the present needs of society, and a look to the future needs. I do not believe that the role of education is to produce social change (Depaepe, M., & Smeyers, P., (2008) and is an ongoing process. However I do support Ryan Bevan’s approach to epistemological thinking, which expands the role of curriculum design, but does not assassinate the issue of critical thinking.

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