Curriculum Matters

MTSD / Volume 2 / Issue 4 / January 2016

MTSD Office of Instructional Services

Deborah Sarmir—Assistant Superintendent Curriculum/Instruction

Damian Pappa—Director Assessment/Data/Accountability

Fiona Borland—Director Instructional Technology

Ron Zalika —Director Curriculum

Lucianne Smith—Executive Assistant

MTSD Content Area Supervisors

Jennifer Riddell—MHS Mathematics

Alma Reyes—World Languages & ESL

Melissa Hodgson—MHS Social Studies

Adam Warshafsky—Visual & Performing Arts

Jason Sullivan—MHS Science

Lisa Romano—LMS/UMS Language Arts & Social Studies

Karen Stalowski—MHS Language Arts

Christopher Herte—LMS/UMS Mathematics & Science

Amy Wish—OHES/VES Mathematics & Science

Amy Monaco—OHES/VES Language Arts & Social Studies

Naoma Green—MHS Physical Education & Health

From the Office of Instructional Services

MTSD has a never-ending commitment to creating and maintaining a guaranteed and viable curriculum that will ensure our students' academic success. This newsletter is a part of this equation, helping to communicate our curricular happenings and instructional activities across grade levels and content areas to district educators, parents and students. While all of our curriculum guides are available through an online database called Rubicon Atlas, this newsletter provides a closer look at the some of the learning experiences and outcomes that our students undertake. Please browse through the curriculum updates provided by our talented team of content-area supervisors.

Spotlight on Curriculum

Many of our K-12 curriculum guides have begun to incorporate a new kind of rigorous assessment called a Performance Task. According to expert Jay McTighe, a Performance Task is an assessment that asks students to perform to authentically demonstrate knowledge, understanding and proficiency. Performance tasks present a complex situation that calls for learners to apply their learning in context. In an authentic task, students consider goals, audience, obstacles, and options to achieve a successful product or performance. Believe it or not, Performance Tasks have been around for decades and have been routinely used in visual and performing arts, physical education, and career-technology where performance is the natural focus of instruction. However, we believe that such tasks should be used in every subject area and at all grade levels.

These Performance Tasks will not replace more traditional types of assessments regularly given to our students. Rather, these two assessment types will be used in tandem to better gauge student mastery. As we continue to develop and utilize these in our curriculum, our collective goal remains the same—to promote meaningful learning for students. Be on the lookout for a Performance Task coming to a curriculum near you!

MHS Math

Students in Algebra put their exponential function skills to use while they calculated how many days each US state would have before a complete zombie takeover. Using exponential growth formulas, students were able to predict the exact number of days of the takeover, using the total population for their specific state. Students explored the relationship between the total population and the number of days it would take for everyone to turn into a zombie. Shockingly, in a short period of time, the world as we know it would be gone! Luckily, there was an antidote and the students saved their individual states. Connections to rules of graphical transformations were made while having fun.

Also, some Algebra 1 students participated in a pilot program where they took their Quarterly exam online using the Performance Matters Unify platform. Students got to practice using various tools such as online calculator, answer eliminator and generally became more familiar with the online assessment atmosphere.

Lastly, congratulations to graduate Akshay Kadhiresan (and all his Math teachers) for being “one of eleven students in the world to earn every point possible on the AP Calculus BC Exam”, according to CollegeBoard. The High School Math department is extremely proud of his accomplishment and wishes him continued success!

MTSD World Language & ESL

German V Honors students conducted research and learned about the German film-making industry as a part of their unit on “Myself and Those around Me.” This unit involved learning how to write character descriptions and portrayals with a hint of literary flair. Students focused on two renditions of the classic German horror film Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens. Students viewed both the original 1922 Expressionist silent film and Werner Herzog’s campier 1979 remake. In addition to discussion regarding a comparison of both versions, students created their own German dubbing of one scene from the silent film and presented it to their class. The unit was completed with the presentation of a written character description and portrayal of one of the film’s characters.

LMS & UMS Language Arts & Social Studies

Did you know that in Medieval Times…

  • Not all people were knights or serfs or clergy?
  • People traveled and traded over very long distances?
  • People did not believe the world was flat?

Well, UMS 7th graders know this and much more about the Medieval Era. As our students travel back in time, they are discussing the role of medieval government, religion, and science on the cultures of then and NOW. Through discussion, reading and writing, students are continuing to question the impact of medieval culture on our lives today. As a culminating activity for the unit, all seventh grade classes will partake in a Medieval Tournament that will challenge both their knowledge of the times and their prowess and skills in simulated medieval competitions.

MTSD Visual & Performing Arts

The Visual and Performing Arts Department has had a wonderful winter season filled with incredible student accomplishments. Ms. Milgram, the 6th grade art teacher, and Mrs. Diatlo, one of our OHES art teachers, submitted student to a few different art competitions. Both of them had students who received honors on the state and national level and whose work will be published and displayed in honor galleries. Our visual arts teachers frequently submit student work to adjudicated shows and more often than not, we have students who are recognized. This is the result of wonderful teaching and hard working students with creative vision.

Our art curriculum focuses largely on developing student creativity and abstract thinking. While we of course teach many skills, the skills learned are not the end goal. The instruction that takes place has the skills being a means to student expressions and creativity. The content of what the students create and how it relates to their lives and the world they live in comes to life through the skills they learn.

Additionally, the visual arts programs at LMS and UMS are again participating in the “Listen Up” program with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. Selected students attended a concert of the Princeton Symphony with their teachers. One of the pieces performed on that concert will be visually interpreted by our students and then displayed in the Princeton Arts Center. This is an incredible experience for our students as multiple art forms come together.

January continued to be a spectacular month of concerts for our music program. The UMS choir, UMS orchestra, LMS orchestra, and MHS choir all gave beautiful concerts that continue to demonstrate the talents of our students and teachers.

This is an exciting time for arts education. Last month, the President signed a bill called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA, like any bill, has a great number of implications, one of which is that visual arts and music are now both defined as core content classes. This equates music and art in importance with the other academic subjects and has implications for school districts that do not offer a rich and thorough visual and performing arts program to their students. Fortunately, Montgomery Township has always been and continues to be a leader in our arts offerings. We are excited for the students across the country that do not currently attend schools with arts programs that will now begin to have the opportunities our students do.

MHS Language Arts

It may be cold outside but MHS students are warming up in English class this winter as they don costumes and foam swords to bring Shakespeare's plays to life! With taunts of "Thou lily-livered toad-faced pog!" and "Thou currish onion-eyed varlot!", freshmen honors students began their study of Romeo & Juliet by playfully "insulting" each other in Shakespearean fashion to get into the spirit of the language. At the same time, some seniors are working their way through Macbeth and contemplating the effects of unchecked ambition, while others in the honors and AP classes are considering the age-old question, "To be or not to be" as they delve into Hamlet. No matter the play, these students are learning why Shakespeare remains a fixture in academic circles everywhere.

OHES & VES Math & Science

Fractions have always represented a considerable challenge for students, well into middle school. A weak understanding of fraction concepts can translate into future difficulty with computation, measurement, decimal/percent concepts, proportional reasoning, probability, and algebra. In elementary school we spend a significant amount of time laying a strong foundation of fractional understanding. Most grades will be studying fractions topics between February and April.

Informally, Kindergarten students explore the concept of half. It is not unusual for students this age to call anything that is split into 2 parts “halves”. In 1st Grade, students learn that all fractions are based on equal size pieces, allowing them to understand and represent halves and fourths. Continuing with the progression, 2nd Graders learn how to say, write, and model fractions including thirds, which is the first time in the standards that equal parts are not based on halving. In 3rd Grade, students learn to represent a fraction using 3 models of fractional representation: regions, segments, and sets. This continues in 4th Grade, where students develop fluency with representing fractions in all 3 models and to both compare fractions and find equivalent fractions.

We are proud to see our elementary students sequentially and comprehensively build depth of understanding in fractions so that they will be confident and prepared for the challenges of middle school math and science.

MHS Social Studies

United States History II classes are focusing on the current presidential election. In their classes, students visited the official websites of the presidential hopefuls in order to get a better understanding of the diverse candidate pool. Students then viewed past presidential campaign advertisements dating back to the 1960s in order to gain a sense of what makes for an effective television ad. Using knowledge of the candidates and understanding the elements of effective advertisements, students created their own campaign commercial for a current presidential hopeful. The lesson culminated in a scored discussion of the 2016 presidential election.

LMS & UMS Math & Science

Mrs. Benz and Ms. Wheaton’s Grade 5 Science classes recently had Mr. Dharmasena, a physicist and engineer at VideoRay (and father of current 5th Grader Nethmi) come and speak to their students about underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

Mr. Dharmesena asked students about buoyancy and what they understood about floating and sinking. He demonstrated how the parts of the ROV enabled it to operate properly (buoyant tank, forward and vertical thrusters, video camera, tether, remote control). Mr. Dharmasena demonstrated how the parts of the ROV moved and the video camera captured the class. It was clear that students understood these complex concepts.

Mrs. Benz said, “I think it’s a wonderful experience having Nethmi’s dad come in. The kids really enjoyed witnessing this real world application of what they are learning. They’re excited and it’s an excellent way to end the unit.”

Bringing science and engineering into the classroom is a winning combination!

MHS Science

January marks the midpoint of the academic year. Students and staff are settling into routines and the curriculum continues to build on the scientific foundations prepared during marking periods 1 and 2. This building up of knowledge is readily apparent in physics. The students and staff have worked to establish a learning environment that places a unique and intentional emphasis on making student thinking visible. Students discussing lab results or homework problems through whole class discussions using mini-whiteboards is a regular practice. As students move into the second semester with a better understanding of the learning process, the curriculum explores the scientific models developed during the first semester through unique physical phenomena. The core models in first semester include constant velocity, uniform acceleration, particle in equilibrium, and constant force. Those experienced in physics would recognize these models as the foundations of kinematics and newton’s laws. The physics courses head into the second semester having done the “heavy lifting” of model development and ready to tackle the application of the models to uniform circular motion, 2-D motion, energy and momentum. All of the remaining units build carefully on the core models and construct new understandings on the foundation prepared during the fall semester. For more information on the instructional methodologies used in MHS Physics classes see Modeling Instruction in High School Sciences.

Opportunities to be involved:

  • The MHS Student STEM Board is accepting recommendations for guest speakers to participate in the MHS Science Lecture Series. The students solicit individuals to share their experiences in education, research, and industry.
  • The Monty MakerSpace is open and getting ready to host open lab times on Saturdays this spring.
  • The 2nd Annual Cougar Science Olympiad Competition will take place on Saturday, February 6th at MHS. Over 25 teams will compete in 27 events. Many volunteers are needed to make the day a success.
  • Spring is just around the corner meaning that the MHS Courtyard Garden will be set for another planting season. The Garden is divided into 3 areas. The Outdoor Classroom is a grassy expanse with benches that accommodates various classroom and Unit lunch activities. The Native Plant Garden displays numerous varieties of perennials and a small pond with waterfall. The third section is home to over 40 raised beds where fruits, vegetables and flowers are raised without pesticides or herbicides. Donations of plants, equipment, or time are always appreciated.

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MTSD Mission and Vision Statements

Mission Statement

Our mission as a forward-thinking community is to ensure that all students grow into confident, compassionate, successful, and self-directed learners a multi-cultural and socio-economically diverse society by providing engaging and challenging real world educational experiences in a student-centered environment.

Vision Statement

We envision a district on the forefront of public education. We focus on the needs of every child, dedicating ourselves to their present and future success. Success means that all students possess a passion for learning, develop a deep understanding of rigorous content, demonstrate cultural competence, and exhibit ethical conduct, while cultivating social skills and healthy habits that will empower them to achieve their goals and aspirations. Achieving this vision requires that the district become a learning community that continually reflects and challenges itself to effect transformational teaching and learning. We prepare our students to take responsibility for their own educational accomplishments in our global society while nurturing them in a community where each student is known and valued. We believe by embracing frontier spirit, we can create a unique organization that is recognized as a forerunner in public education.