Curriculum and Instruction Report Presented at the New Providence BOE meeting

Biomedical Engineering students explain their projects Credits: Marianne Ivers
Credits: Marianne Ivers

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Jay Richter, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Supervision, provided the Board of Education (BOE) with a presentation on the current curriculum as well as future curriculum trends at the Thursday, Feb. 22 BOE meeting.

The interactive presentation, including power point, video clips, and student demonstrations, was put together jointly by the department heads and administration. The theme throughout the presentation was innovation and how the technology has changed the way students learn and teachers teach. The presentation also looked into the next school year and beyond.

We have “amazing programs” at all grade levels, and the question is “where do we go from here,” Richter explained. One new idea is “service learning” which has been introduced to high school students. These include the New Providence Senior Center Outreach and Salt Box Museum Partnership programs. High School Teacher Byron Tracey explained that sociology students go to the senior center every Wednesday to interview senior citizens for their study of norms and values through generations.

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Tracey explained that that district has taken approximately 800 elementary school students through the Salt Box Museum in the span of several years. Now senior students are cataloging all the artifacts stored in the museum. This multi-year community service project gives students a real life work experience.

Richter also pointed out the importance of community support for both the schools and students. The recent projects funded by the referendum have provided the students and teachers with an access to “outstanding” resources, including state-of-art classroom designs, new technology and science labs that offer the students a 21st century learning experience and environment.

The technology is transforming how teachers are doing things. Teachers in the middle and high school have been using Google Classroom for some time to create, distribute and collect material. Teachers are also using a variety of other online programs in addition to face-to-face learning experiences. This “blended” learning is taking place at all grade levels. The elementary schools are using online programs that provide video and other resources for students and allow them to complete tasks on their own. Teachers in middle and high schools are using “Edulastic”-program that allows teachers to create online assessments. The program also provides real time results of those assessments.

Technology Specialist Sandra Andersen brought Google Goggles for the board member in order to demonstrate a same kind of visual experience as students have in the classrooms. The learning experience using Google Goggles is “very engaging” for the students, she said. Richter also had Christine Murphy, Language Arts Teacher at Salt Brook School, attend the presentation via Skype and tell the board about her class using Skype to talk to the author of the book the students were reading.

Jon Keaney, STEM Department Head, explained that the new K-5 Science curriculum is “very hands on” as exhibited in the video clips of science classroom activities in the elementary schools. In high school Honors Calculus has been added as off this year in addition to two AP calculus courses. Keaney noted that the Honors class is tailored to students who are ready to take a more challenging class, but not willing to participate in the more rigorous AP class.

The district has STEM classes and STEM teachers in K-6. The STEM curriculum was based on the pilot programs. Because STEM classes are starting at an earlier age there will be changes to the middle school STEM curriculum going forward. Junior Engineering class has already been added in the middle school.

Keaney explained that the STEM curriculum is providing students with 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving and communications skills. The classrooms are student centered where noise and direct interactions are common.

New high school courses this year include: Environmental Sustainability; Architecture & Engineering Design; Biomedical Engineering; and Aerospace Engineering. Keaney said that these classes feature real life problem solving projects. He noted that students want to have more Architecture & Engineering Design classes. Keaney invited a few students to demonstrate their projects in these new classes.

Richter explained that the district hopes to challenge students in “new and different ways.” The K-2 Reading Specialist Inclusion program has been going on for four years now, and “more and more students are reading at their grade benchmark level,” he said. The 7th grade extension allows students to have an extra period every other day. I-Pads in the middle school language art classes have shown positive results with students thus being able to enhance their skills. The new visions and enhancements in the Gifted and Talented program provide different tiers of extra challenge for students.

Going forward the district will evaluate and enhance some of the programs. For example, the district has built a framework for the K-6 STEM curriculum. This summer the district will work on an updated and innovative curriculum based on that framework. The Gifted and Talented program will also be evaluated. Updated computer science classes in the high school level are also planned with an emphasis on python language and cyber security. The Math Committee is evaluating how students are doing,  setting forth benchmark skills at each grade level. The new rotating drop bell schedule will start in September at the high school allowing students to earn additional credits.

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