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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Curriculum Materials Working Group on April 14th

The Curriculum Materials Working Group, spearheaded by Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams, convenes during the school year to review and evaluate curriculum materials and practices. The 4/14 meeting was centered on two areas: Foreign Language and Science. (My explanations are in italics.)

Director of Foreign Language Dr. Kim Talbot and French teacher Mr. Jon Morisseau began the discussion by indicating that staff work involved collaboration between and among the different language teaching teams. They spoke to the efficacy of the 4th year Italian and Spanish language materials, including the fact that much of the text doesn’t have to be completed in a linear fashion – it’s open to skipping around. (French is still somewhat linear but may change later.) Regarding curriculum work, they indicated that Foreign Language staff had completed strong foundational work in curriculum mapping (the design for the topics of study in a subject, including content, skills, teaching and learning processes, and assessments) and pacing guides (a calendar that details when topics are taught and assessed). They are well into the next step, which is creating Understanding by Design (UbD) Units (by breaking down the desired results from teaching a topic, including the knowledge and skills to be acquired, how students will show what they learn, and the actual learning activities). In conjunction with that work, they are exploring things like whether the “essential questions” that are asked around each topic should carry across languages or whether they are unique to each one. Teachers are trying to “flip” more work (learning at home and practicing at school so teachers can see where students struggle and then help them) by employing software like Quizlet and ePals. In the area of what students learn, they are embedding more cultural elements and real-life themes into the material. Work will continue over the summer. A more purposeful approach to the speaking element of foreign language learning will be a focus next year, especially using “responsive speaking” at the upper levels, which employs PTO-funded voice recorders. Dr. Talbot reported that 93% of students at MHS now study foreign language, up from 70% a short time ago. Check out course information and read the Foreign Language blog here: http://melroseschools.com/school-departments/global-languages/ and follow the department on Twitter at @MelroseFL.

Director of Science, Business, and Technology Julie Shea spoke to the changing of state science standards, indicating that there are currently guidelines for the elementary grades and drafts for secondary. There will be more emphasis on scientific and engineering practices, and the shift is a two-three year process since the standards must be tested. Not all courses (like Anatomy and Physiology) have state standards. The AP exams are more “big idea” focused. One noted change; in the past, content topics for elementary students could be completed in a window of time (like grades three through five) resulting in students from different schools potentially studying those topics at different times. In the future, the topics will be designated for a specific grade so if a student moves, he/she can go into a new school with the same foundational content knowledge as the students already in the building. Staff is using Google as a platform to develop and discuss topics, like doing labs together and sharing information and ideas about them. “Open source materials” (materials available to anyone) will be used more often in classrooms to supplement and support textbook material. Computer Aided Design (CAD) course software has been expanded from AutoCAD to Revit and Inventor, allowing students to spend the first year doing actual drawing and working on the computer, then delving deeper into the software in years two through four. There is more staff focus around supporting ELL students (e.g. making sure that translation dictionaries are not general in nature, but are specially designed for science words and phrases since they aren’t directly translatable) and special education students (e.g. applying strategies from the District Curriculum Accommodation Plan in a more focused way). Read content topics and course syllabi here: http://melroseschools.com/school-departments/science-and-technology/ and follow the department on Twitter at @MelroseSTE.