Something for Every Student in Newly Unveiled K-12 Livingston Curriculum

Natalie Topylko and Marybeth Kopacz (Directors of Curriculum & Instruction -STEM/Testing and Humanities/Staff Development) present to changes made to Livingston's K-12 curriculum Credits: Carolyn S. Moses

LIVINGSTON, NJ – Natalie Topylko and Marybeth Kopacz (Directors of Curriculum & Instruction -STEM/Testing and Humanities/Staff Development, respectively) teamed together last Monday to present to the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) the numerous changes made to the K-12 curriculum before the start of this school year.

During the meeting, they unveiled the revisions and additions made for various levels of study in the areas of: English Language Arts; Social Studies; Science; Mathematics; Health and Physical Education; Visual and Performing Arts; World Language and English as a Second Language (ESL); Interdisciplinary Courses; Business Education; Family and Consumer Science; and Technology, Design and Engineering.

According to their presentation, the overarching goal was to view each discipline as it plays out over the entire trajectory of a student’s K-12 career, building successively on the depth and complexity of learning inside that discipline as the child’s understanding of learning fundamentals, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities develop. The central theme employed to give the Livingston Public School (LPS) curriculum a cohesiveness was summed up in one word: “interdisciplinary.”

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“Research shows that children learn much better when skills and concepts are integrated and taught in authentic ways as opposed to in isolation,” said Kopacz. “We have interdisciplinary skills being imbedded into the curriculum through both learning projects and assessments.”

The curriculum document is viewed as a continual “work in progress”—a living document that starts with a needs assessment and maps out a plan that is implemented, monitored, evaluated, reviewed and revised so the improvements are constantly being made to mirror ever-changing needs.

According to Topylko, questions that she and Kopacz begin with include: “What is it that students really need to understand? As teachers who realize we don’t always live in silos, how does one type of content or subject relate to another?  And how can you scaffold up for students who need an additional challenge and down for a student who may be struggling?”

Adding to the complexity of the curriculum writing task is the fact that New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) mandates require certain aspects, such as 21st-century themes, technology, academic standards, instructional tools and the integration of “The Four Cs” (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication) woven into the curricular documents. The state board similarly requires that revisions to various content areas be implemented by specific dates—an assignment the Curriculum & Instruction Directors are usually ahead of schedule in completing.

One of the areas of curriculum modification for 2017-18 centers on the PRIDE pre-school readiness program. According to the presentation, a state-approved curriculum known as the Creative Curriculum was used to create a well-balanced program. 

The Creative Curriculum focuses on ten areas of development including: social emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, math, science, technology, social studies, arts and English language acquisition.

The ever-increasing emphasis on STEAM learning (Science, Technology, English, Art and Math) has been infused into the elementary science curriculum. Designed to tap into children’s natural curiosity while increasing their engagement in the learning process, this approach allows teachers to move away from the traditional model of memorization to a model of creative problem solving and autonomous decision making. 

Activities start as early as kindergarten, where children are tasked with designing carnival games to help demonstrate the forces of physics through the concepts of push-and-pull and geometry when they create cutout snowflakes as winter approaches.

First graders make musical instruments to learn about sound and develop habitats that mimic various ecosystems. Second graders address the issue of bee-population decline in developing a bee pollinator and study engineering concepts in a unit that challenges them to “build a bridge.”

At the other end of the spectrum, high school students can benefit from new biotechnology and research course offerings that help them sharpen their hands-on, in-lab research, advanced research paper writing, and presentation skills as they deliver the results of their research in a formal presentation made to peers and a science symposium.

Those entering into high school can also take advantage of a new humanities course that goes the distance by linking four subjects together. Ninth Grade Humanities connects history, English, art and music to help students explore how the interaction of political history, economics and literary and cultural influences has impacted modern-day living. 

Students with an artistic bent can now get a jumpstart on getting their portfolio to the top of the pile in a course structured on the elements of art and principles of design as well as updated resources and references that make technology resources more accessible. They can also put their talents to use in the AM Wired studio as they learn how to produce television for the digital age using more up-to-date technology.

Thanks to the continual curriculum improvement processes in place, the possibilities for today’s LPS student are limitless when it comes to curriculum, according to Topylko and Kopacz.

”We’re opening up pathways to students that prepare them for the workplace and what it will become,” said Topylko. “There is a joy and energy in the interdisciplinary connections that can be made that helps the students to know that the world outside our doors is interdisciplinary and interconnected.”

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