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Children Discovering Their World Curricula

Introduction to CDW with Dr. Christy Tirrell-Corbin

Dr. Christy Tirrell-Corbin

Dr. Christy Tirrell-Corbin is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology (HDQM) in the College of Education at University of Maryland. She is also the Executive Director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and Intervention (CECEI) at the University of Maryland, and the Principal Investigator and Project Director for Children Discovering Their World (CDW). 

With funding from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Division of Early Childhood, CECEI has developed two early childhood curricula programs under the Children Discovering Their World (CDW) series. Children Study Their World (CSW), an early childhood curriculum for four-year-olds, is the first of the two programs developed by CECEI. The second is Children Explore Their World (CEW) which is for three-year-olds.

CDW curricula are based on the principles of project-based inquiry and are driven by evidence-based practices that both build teacher capacity and support successful implementation. Each curriculum consists of eight interdisciplinary, content-rich projects, which are aligned with CDW PreK units, that build upon children’s knowledge and increase in complexity throughout the school year. These projects support children’s common understanding of a topic and nurture their innate sense of curiosity about their world. 

The overall goal of the CDW project-based approach is to actively involve children in their own learning. Family and community members extend this learning through expert visits, field trips, and at-home activities. 

CECEI initially piloted CSW in the 2018-2019 school year and has implemented it throughout Maryland since the 2019-2020 school year. Programs piloted CEW during the 2021-2022 school year and are beginning full implementation for the 2022-2023 school year.

What differentiates CDW from other early childhood curricula?

CDW differs from other curricula in two important ways: providing explicit support for ALL learners and focusing on community engagement. Both CEW and CSW have lesson-embedded strategies for Dual Language Learners (DLLs), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiation. The curricula also provide guidance around Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) for children with developmental delays or disabilities. In addition, projects were structured to facilitate interactions between the children and adults in and around the school/program. For example, in CSW the children actively engage with a community partner around a service project in the fall and maintain that partnership throughout the entire school year. This allows the children to both learn from (and develop relationships with) a broader group of adults while also sharing their learnings with these new and important people in their lives.

What are some of the key aspects/features of the curricula?

A key feature of the CDW curricula is their grounding in project-based learning, which is an in-depth investigation of a topic that is personally relevant to the children. The titles of the curricula were very carefully chosen–whatever the children are learning is focused on “Their World.” Therefore, projects are grounded in concrete objects and experiences that exist in every community, no matter the socioeconomic level or geographic region. Moreover, the learning experiences are child driven and hands on. Projects typically start by asking the children what they know about a topic (which allows for assessment of their foundational knowledge) and then the teachers ask the children what they want to know. Although the curricula contain detailed lesson plans across the content areas, teachers are encouraged to leverage their local resources when engaging children in a project. For example, the lesson plans in the Transportation project were written around buses (because, to the earlier point, buses are in every community). However, if the school is near the water, teachers are encouraged to focus on boats; if it is near a train station, teachers are encouraged to focus on trains. 

Another key feature of CDW is its responsive approach to professional development (PD), which relies on data (e.g., observational, teacher and administrator surveys, etc.) to guide the annual design of introductory PD sessions and resources. While project (teacher’s) guides include detailed lesson plans, additional resources have been developed in response to identified needs, such as conducting formative assessments, supporting transitions, and facilitating children’s oral language development. Through a grant from the MSDE, new CDW teachers are provided with a curriculum specialist (whose role is to support teachers learning and implementing the curriculum). PD webinars are provided every other month of year one on topics such as supporting DLLs, leveraging documentation boards for formative assessment, and adjusting CDW lessons for children with IEPs. In year two, teachers receive support for a CDW coach.

How does CDW incorporate findings from early childhood research?

The original CDW design team was composed of researchers at the University of Maryland, who have extensive knowledge of existing research, and actively conduct research in the field of early childhood education. Therefore, the intent from the onset was to design research-based curricula that would evolve along with the science. As more is learned about children’s development and learning, the curricula and/or professional development are modified to align with the most current research findings. For example, in response to COVID-19-driven social isolation and the well-documented consequences on children’s social-emotional development, resources were created for teachers to support children’s emotional well-being in the form of welcoming routines for the start of the day and community-building components throughout all lessons and activities.

To whom do you credit the success of the CDW curricula?

The success of CDW rests on the shoulders of many, many people. First and foremost, I want to acknowledge the leadership in the Division of Early Childhood at the Maryland State Department of Education, notably Rolf Grafwallner, former Assistant Superintendent, Steven Hicks, current Assistant Superintendent and Judy Walker, Early Learning Branch Chief. Not only have they funded this project; they have been wonderful collaborators and colleagues at each step along the way. Their individual commitments to high-quality early childhood education are unwavering, which has allowed us to develop the curricula and provide teachers with evidence-based, sustained professional development.

Within the University of Maryland, a multitude of people have contributed to the success of CDW. As previously mentioned, contributors to the development and implementation of CDW include the design team, followed by the program managers, the writers, curriculum specialists, coaches, research assistants/UMD students and the business office staff in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology. Last, but far from least, I want to acknowledge the early childhood program administrators and, of course, the teachers who have embarked on the CDW journey with us.


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