Jackson BOE Gives High Grades To Curriculum Presentation

Students are seen here taking part in the aquaponics program which is part of the science curriculum. (Photo courtesy Jackson School District)

JACKSON – Board of Education members gave kudos to members of two curriculum teams who unveiled their plans for teaching science and social studies during the September board meeting.

The new curriculum involves problem solving based learning and also includes students of the high school providing video segments for the curriculum of kindergarten through 5th grades.

Superintendent Stephen Genco and each member of the board thanked the educators for their work in developing the curriculum, which integrates STEM learning and has an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

Social Studies teacher Tim Harrison headed the curriculum team for Social Studies, including fellow educators Aju Mathews and April Brucculeri.

“This is different from how we used to learn science and social studies which used to involve a student carrying around a lot of memory work. With this we are moving away from memorization and more toward doing, exploring and discovering,” Harrison said.

He called the approach “constructionism. Students learn better when challenged with a real-life problem and which they can connect to their lives. They will be facing a work force that is different than ours and they will need to know how to process and solve problems.”

The project and problem-based learning approach of the new curriculum will include daily 20 minute exercises where students will work in groups of two or three and have access to resources to learn about a particular topic. They will create mini-projects according to Harrison.

Science teacher Tina Topoleski served as lead for the Science Curriculum team. She said the reason the curriculum of science was redesigned involved meeting the state’s Next Generation science standards but she said the district’s plan went beyond that concept.

She said the science curriculum involves “not just content but big concepts. We looked at new products by leading publishers and we did everything from scratch with input from various teachers.”

Topoleski also said that students would be using the same composition notebooks for several years. “They will use them each year and it will have all their observations, problem solving and writing.”

Shawn Levinson, the co-team leader of the Science Curriculum team said, “The students will be looking at world problems and looking to find creative and innovative ways to solve those problems. We’ll be designing a challenge and an open end to a problem in the real world such as water wind erosion such as what we saw during Superstorm Sandy.”

He showed a video produced and hosted by the district’s high school students which gave an overview of what happened during Superstorm Sandy in the area of damage and erosion. Levinson said the videos were made at the close of last year and were aimed at students of different grade levels. Science teachers David Kasyan and Melissa Gallagher were also part of the science curriculum team.

Genco noted that the district’s visual media academy would be focusing many of its projects towards supporting the new curriculum. “This leads itself to their projects.”

Robert Rotante, the district’s director of STEM said during the meeting that “this type of integration of subjects by the students is exactly what is called for.”

Students make educational videos for younger grades. (Photo courtesy Jackson School District)

Assistant Superintendent Daniel Baginski called the planned curriculums “ambitious and we feel they will be highly well received by students.”

Board President Scott Sargent Board, vice president Vicki Grasso and board members Thomas Colucci and John Burnetsky thanked all the curriculum team members for their work.

“I was very impressed with the science and social studies presentation. It is very exciting to see this process come alive,” Board member Sharon Dey said.

Board member Michael Walsh added that “this definitely rings true to what STEM is about. Tonight’s presentation was really fantastic. Jackson High School TV bringing their work into the classroom will be a good learning experience for them as well.”

In other news, Genco and board members noted a smooth start to the new school year which started right after Labor Day. “The district is in good shape with transportation despite some road projects that created a challenge and our sports teams are up and running and are off to a good start. Back to school nights are already being held.”

“This was a smooth opening of our schools. Some years we get a lot of calls and e-mails but not this year,” Board member Michael Hanlon said.

Grasso said the recent “back to school night at McAuliffe School was jammed.”