Curriculum Design

A Closer Look at FLEX Curriculum (Ep. 205)

After the introduction of FLEX Curriculum last week, the response from teachers and districts has been overwhelming. So this week, it’s time to dive deeper. AOEU’s Senior Editor, Megan Dehner, joins Tim to talk all about FLEX. Listen as they discuss how the platform meets and adapts to teachers’ needs, how to get FLEX in your district, and answer some of the most pressing questions about the curriculum. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

All right. Welcome to the show. This week we are interrupting our regular schedule to talk a little bit more about the FLEX Curriculum. We rolled it out last week. You probably heard the episode with our director of K-12 Curriculum, Cassidy Reinken, she was amazing. I love talking to her. And we loved rolling out FLEX, but it has been so incredibly popular.

We’ve been overwhelmed with the response to FLEX. And so we decided we needed to record another podcast really quickly to talk a little bit more about it, answer some questions that people have and just dive a little deeper into the whole product. And so I decided to bring on somebody who helped a lot with the development of the curriculum. It’s our senior editor, Megan Dehner. She’s joining me now.

Megan, how are you?

Megan: I’m good. How are you, Tim?

Tim: I am doing really well. I’m excited to talk more about FLEX because we’ve been working on it for what, like two years and it’s finally out?

Megan: Yes. Yes.

Tim: And so we’re just so excited to show it off. So it’s a good thing.

Megan: We are. Yes.

Tim: So anyway, I just want to go through some of the, I guess, common questions. And a lot of the comments that we’re seeing from people either through just Facebook comments or Instagram or just emailing or calling The Art of Ed. and asking about the curriculum. And hopefully we can, like I said, dive a little deeper and you can give us a little more insight into what’s going on. So the first, I don’t know if this is the most common, but I think it’s kind of the elephant in the room. And we need to address it and that is “Help, this is so expensive, I can’t afford it.”

Megan: I completely understand. Yes.

Tim: Yes, we are teachers as well. We understand.

Megan: Right.

Tim: But people kind of need to or not even need to, but I would recommend that people kind of shift their thinking about this, right? And try and get administrators on board as well, right?

Megan: Absolutely. And when you see the number, it’s totally normal to have that sticker shock of $49 individual, $499 for the year. Are you kidding you?

Tim: Yes, yes.

Megan: Totally understandable, especially when you think about like, oh, my gosh, my budget for the whole year is maybe $900. You know?

Tim: Right.

Megan: So how can you reconcile that? And really, the price point is more for curriculum adoption. This is not the same perspective that you should have for your budget for your art supplies.

Tim: Right, right.

Megan: These funds and the price of this are for curriculum funds and readopting a whole process of what you already have. So for example, other content areas, they spend gobs of money on new literacy curriculums, new math curriculums, new science textbooks on a continuous renewal basis. A lot of cycles are like seven years, maybe five years.

And so when you look at that kind of price point and some are even spending like $250 per student per year when you look over the long range. And those are really scary numbers and FLEX is actually far more affordable than a traditional textbook or curriculum options that schools have been given in the past.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: And so it really is a whole new option and it gives you more than what a traditional option, for example, a textbook might be because a textbook is static, it doesn’t develop, you can’t add onto it.

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Megan: And FLEX is dynamic. We’re always going to be adding things on to it and improving it. And so when we think of FLEX and what it’s worth, it is absolutely worth the price point that we’re offering it at. And because it’s at that price point, it should motivate you to think about it outside of just your own classroom.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: And think about the other schools in your district, the other teachers in your district, and how they can use that as well. Because it’s really designed to affect a whole district, a whole community, not just you and your classroom.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: So when we think about kind of the broad umbrella approach of what a curriculum looks like, it is appropriate for that sticker shock as a personal level. But when it comes to a big view from the district, it’s really an appropriate affordable price.

Tim: Yeah, for sure.

Megan: And if you were to inquire about other curriculum costs of other content areas to your administrator, they would probably tell you numbers that would give you even bigger shocks.

Tim: Yes, yes. So let me add two points to that. Number one, like you said, school districts should be the ones that are paying for FLEX. If you have the money and you want to buy it on your own, that’s awesome.

Megan: Yes.

Tim: But districts are the ones who should be purchasing this because there is money there. We don’t deal with this as art teachers very often, this is an admin job. But admin knows that there are funds available.

And they are set aside specifically for curriculum purchases. And we need to ask about that. Like you said, we need to advocate for ourselves and we need to say, “Hey, this is something that will work for us”. And like you said, the gobs of money. I remember when my district adopted curriculum and the amount we spent on textbooks, it’s just an ungodly amount of money. And so when you’re looking at FLEX, it’s far more affordable than just those traditional textbook options. So, I think districts are excited to see the offerings, they’re excited to see that, like you said, FLEX is growing and building. And it’s far, far more affordable than the options that are generally out there.

So I think that that’s good. So I also wanted to talk a little bit about the difference between PRO and FLEX because I know there’s a little bit of confusion there.

Megan: Sure.

Tim: People have been with PRO for a while and then are like, “Is this added to it? Does this go along with it?” And I guess, probably the easiest way to think about it, and maybe you can explain this better than I can. But the easiest way to think is PRO is for teachers. And FLEX is for students. PRO will help you with your PD and FLEX will help you with student-facing things, the lessons you need, the resources you need to teach in your classroom. Is that the best way to explain it?

Megan: I think that’s a great way to explain it.Teacher facing versus student-facing. And sure, there’s going to be overlap when it comes to … The way that you learn as a teacher is going to affect the way that you teach. And the tools that you decide to use and the resources that you want to implement in your classroom. But in terms of it organized into how you should approach it, I’m doing this for my own professional development, PRO learning and it also has different facets of different themes.

And then FLEX Curriculum, student-facing, this is, I’m doing this for my students. I’m organizing these lessons, collections. I’m developing what I’m actually going to do in my classroom versus PRO where I’m developing how I’m going to be a better teacher. So there’s a big difference. However, we view them as the best of siblings because they work together.

Tim: Right.

Megan: So no sibling rivalry, just like perfect symbiotic relationship where they work together to make what you do in the classroom even stronger.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s a really good point. Okay, so I also want to ask you though, people have been asking “Can I combine these? If I’m a PRO subscriber, can I add on FLEX? Is there a discount that goes with that?” So can they be bundled together? Can you talk about that?

Megan: For sure. For individual subscribers, instead of the two separate costs, they can be bundled together for $69 per month. And then if it’s more at a bigger district level, say your district is purchasing it for more than just yourself, those discounts can then kind of compound and you’ll work with the sales team to figure out what that looks like.But the answer is yes. When combined it’s a much better value.

Tim: Yeah. And I’m going to say this repeatedly throughout the episode. But if you have questions, people, reach out. We have a whole team that wants to work with your admin, with your district to get this in your school. So if it’s going to work for you, please, please fill out the interest form.

Megan: Yeah.

Tim: We will have somebody from our team reach out. But next thing, Megan, probably the biggest reason I wanted to have you on is because you played such a big role in development of this curriculum.

And so I wanted to talk about just, I guess, the logistics of FLEX and some of the questions we’re asking. So first one to get out of the way, “Is there a free trial or a free preview of FLEX, where I can sign up for like 30 days and just check out everything that’s in there?”

Megan: I’m happy to answer your questions. First, I want to say that a whole team of people made FLEX passable. And I was just a small part. But being familiar with all the parts really gives me a comprehensive view of everything that it took to put this together.

And so when it comes to all of those moving parts and how much information is in there and all of the collections, all the resources, all the videos, all the lessons, everyone is so excited to see them. And we understand people’s enthusiasm for can I see it? Can I have a preview? We do not give a free trial for all of the resources and collections and lessons.

However, they are viewable in preview form like you can’t download them, you don’t have access to view everything, but you can see in a small thumbnail version. And really get a sense of the in-depth way we’ve taken into everything that we’re doing. So you can fully see how everything is organized. You can understand what is related. You can search things that you can see what kind of assessments could be related to a certain lesson.

You can understand that there’s specific resources to a specific lesson. You can see how there’s resources that could be in a choice classroom and not apply to any specific lesson, but you don’t have access to download or actually use it in your classroom in a feasible way, unless you are a FLEX member, which we hope everyone will be.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. So short answer, no free trial.

Megan: Yep. No.

Tim: But, you can literally see everything that’s in there before you subscribed, so that’s cool.

Megan: Right.

Tim: Secondly, can people add their own lesson plans to the platform?

Megan: No, we hope that FLEX is so comprehensive that it will be robust enough to add to the awesome things that you’re already doing in your classroom.

The platform doesn’t work that you can add what you have to your own classes. That’s not how it’s developed. So FLEX, within your membership, you can organize things that you want to do and to classes and to units and you can actually share those classes and units with other teachers that are members.

Tim: Yeah, which by the way is just so much fun.

Megan: Is so cool.

Tim: I’ve been developing my own classes already. And sharing them with other people at AOEU and it’s a blast. So I’m spending way too many hours just digging through. I’m like, “Oh, this resource is perfect. I need this artist bio.” It’s a good time. But anyway, I’m sorry to interrupt you.

Megan: No, no. So while someone might want to add their own lessons into the My Classes view, it’s really, we take it a step further and we allow you to collaborate with other art teachers in your district.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Megan: So no, you can’t put … The short answer, as you like to say “No, you can’t add, we don’t have the ability to add lessons that you’ve already created and put them in to FLEX. But what we’ve created in FLEX is so applicable to what you are already doing in your classroom.”

Tim: Exactly. And just one other thing logistically, we can’t have people adding things because we’ve spent so much time aligning every lesson to the art standards in every single state.

Megan: Yes.

Tim: But it has been so much-

Megan: Right, we’ve made it easy for everyone.

Tim: Yes, yes. And we just can’t add more to that. We just want to keep it streamlined as far as filtering and searching by standards and search and bag medium and all of that good stuff. So yeah. So hopefully, like we said, there’s hundreds of lessons, there’s thousands of resources, so you should be able to find what you need there.

Okay. Next up, most of these materials, are they better for elementary, better for secondary? Is it a mix?

Megan: They’re great for everybody. We have things organized into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and there’s so much overlap within those. If you do search the platform, you will see that beginner lessons and the collections can really be used throughout any level.

There’s no propriety in, “Oh, this is the beginner lesson. I can’t do it with my sixth graders.” I think that teachers know their students best.

And they are able to really determine how much to push their students, how much to give them. And there are so many lessons I’ve seen in here that I’ve been surprised at, “Oh, I would really like to do that with my elementary students.” And it’s like right on the money.

And then there’s things that I want to take from the advanced student collections and lessons and I’m like, “I really like that resource for that advanced students. But I think my fifth graders can handle it.” And so, it’s about-

Tim: Yeah. Well, and … Yeah, I just did that yesterday. Sorry, I’m interrupting again, but I’m so excited.

Megan: No, that’s totally fine.

Tim: No, I was putting together one of my high school classes and I found an abstract shape lesson. I’m like, “I would totally teach this in high school.” And then I sat there for a second. I’m like, “Am I really adding a beginner lesson to my high school class?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah I am.”

Megan: Right.

Tim: And like you said, it just goes back to your personal opinions like yes, this would be good for my classroom-

Megan: And your students.

Tim: This would be good for my students. And you just add what works for you.

Megan: Well also, I find that it’s really awesome for differentiation.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: Especially when it comes to the assessment piece. Because there are, I mean, we’ve got all sorts of learners in our room and so in a way to be able to address the differentiation of every learner is that you can, for example, we have some common assessments that build upon each other, they scaffold.

So the beginner level, exit ticket is very simple and straightforward.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: The intermediate one is more challenging and asks students to go deeper. And then the advanced is obviously the next step further. Well, if you have a third grader who could handle the intermediate, in order to address his or her learning, that’s what you should use for that particular student.

So it really provides a way for you to have power of any differentiation as well as you deciding the age appropriateness and how it will apply and really push and pull your students.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. That’s a great point. Yeah, like you said, it’s so versatile. And you can, like you said, just pick and choose whatever you need and has some beautiful benefits for differentiation.

And then also a lot of people have been asking about how often new materials are added. So I think people know three new collections a month, but can you talk about what may be in various collections and what people can expect each month moving forward?

Megan: Absolutely. So a collection is, think of it as a group of possible lessons under a unifying theme. So a collection typically has five to six lesson plans that address beginner, intermediate, advanced levels. There are a variety of resources that go along with each lesson. And then we will be linking, as the library of videos grows, we will be linking new or existing videos to those collections to further connect what’s happening in those collections.

And then we will also be linking existing or new assessments that links specifically to those lesson plans. So within each collection, there are going to be three new collections release every month from here on out. And so there’s all sorts of themes that we’re excited about. And I don’t quite know our titling yet because we have to make it really exciting.

But when it comes to science and fibers and portrait collection, we’re really excited about making sure that we are hitting all sorts of themes and ways of learning. And so within each collection then there are going to be new lesson plans that connect to new and existing resources, new and existing videos and new and existing assessments. So it’s going to be comprehensive and exciting every month.

Tim: Yes, that’s super, super cool. I think that’s probably the best part, just getting away from those textbooks that sit on your shelf because you don’t want to teach the same lessons over and over.

You know, just being able to see this curriculum continue to grow and develop.

Megan: Right.

Tim: But for me, is one of the most exciting parts. But one last question for you before we go.

Megan: Sure.

Tim: Just on a personal level, what is your favorite part of the curriculum? What are you most excited about seeing get out into people’s classrooms?

Megan: I think a big part of what makes me really excited is that every collection and lesson and resource I’ve seen, I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

Tim: Yeah.

Megan: I can’t go to another textbook or I can’t go to social media, I can’t go to anywhere on the internet and find what I’m looking for altogether. It’s always piecemeal together and having it all in one place, in a way I’ve never seen before.

And seeing an image and a little thumbnail and being like, I really want to do that. And I’ve never seen … I want to do that, I want to experiment with that with my students. I want to be able to use this resource and I don’t have to make it myself with a Sharpie and a piece of copy paper.

Tim: Yes.

Megan: And it’s beautiful, and it’s ready for my students, and it’s backed by standards. And so just the excitement and the legitimacy of everything that’s on there, makes me feel really good about putting it in front of my students. I think the confidence that this has instilled is really exciting.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a way better answer than what I was going to go with.

Megan: Thanks, Tim.

Tim: Because I was going to say as an art history nerd, those artist bio’s are awesome. Plus the videos are super cool. So you’re much more eloquent than I was about everything that’s there.

Megan: I am excited about the videos and showing them.

Tim: So cool. All right, well Megan, thank you so much for chatting with me. I know there are a ton of questions out there and so I appreciate you being able to to answer them. And hopefully we’ve helped people. So thank you.

Megan: Absolutely. Yes. And keep them coming. Keep the questions coming. We are always open to feedback and excited about growing with you.

Tim: For sure. All right, thank you to Megan for coming on. We had a lot of fun talking about the new FLEX curriculum. I’m just going to share two quick stories here before we close it up for the day. Now as we said, districts are supportive of a good curriculum and it’s up to you to advocate for yourself and to ask about getting a curriculum if it’s something you think would be good for your district.

But like I said, two things. There is one call that we had with the Director of Visual Arts and she was discussing the things that they are looking for in their curriculum. And it was about teacher autonomy and vertical alignment of resources and lessons and assessment tools. Focus on living artists with lesson plans aligned to the standards and giving students choice and voice in the artwork that they’re making. And FLEX curriculum does all of those things. And so if you allow our team to show your district what’s there they’re going to be supportive.

And we talked to another Visual Arts Director or coordinator in Texas and they were talking about their curriculum has to connect students from different cultures and backgrounds, which FLEX curriculum does. Does it connect to the standards? It does. Does it require students to connect and create and present and respond? And it does. You can search by standard, you can meet all of these standards that you’re looking for with this curriculum.

So in short, it’s a fascinating curriculum that districts are going to support. And so if you think that’s good for you, if you think you can use that in your district, reach out. Because it really is giving you a powerful tool to develop the curriculum that you want. So we will leave links for you to get in touch, an interest form for teachers.

You can check out the entire curriculum and like I said, if it’s something you want, then step up. Okay. Talk to your district about it. Talk to your admin about it, and let them find the dollars needed to get you the curriculum that you want and the curriculum that you need.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thanks for allowing us to interrupt with another episode about FLEX. But like I said, we’ve had so many questions and so much excitement, we wanted to talk about it one more time.

Next week, Elizabeth Peterson will return to the show. We’ll be talking about soundtracking your art room. So that should be a really interesting discussion. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit, so we will talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.