Willingboro Public Schools

From the WPS Office of Curriculum & Instruction



WPS has a never-ending commitment to creating and maintaining a guaranteed and viable curriculum that will ensure the academic success of our students. 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 edConnect, this newsletter is intended to provide a closer look at the some of the learning experiences and outcomes that our students undertake.

Please feel free to browse through the curriculum updates provided by our talented team.

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WPS Curriculum Night

Thursday, Feb. 20th, 6-7:30pm

20 South John F Kennedy Way

Willingboro, NJ

WPS Literacy Corner

Reading the Weather, Reading the World

Fourth grade students across the district have been researching extreme weather. In this multidisciplinary, collaborative research unit, students worked in partnerships or small teams to research a specific type of extreme weather. Our fourth grade students learned a variety of strategies readers use to tackle complex, nonfiction (informational texts). They studied and identified the text structures of nonfiction: problem/solution, compare-and-contrast, cause and effect, and chronological sequence. They learned how to determine importance as they read, find the central idea and key details in a text. They learned how to synthesize their thinking across texts to think about how new information has added to or challenged their prior knowledge. Our fourth graders studied tone and craft, practiced close reading, and evaluated sources to determine credibility.

As a culminating celebration, Hawthorne Park Elementary teachers Constance Vogel and Glenda Smiley invited Action News Meteorologist Karen Rogers to discuss extreme weather with their students. Karen Rogers not only taught the students the science of hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards, but showed students a variety of forecast models; such as the spaghetti plot model, and satellite views of a storm. She explained how technology has enhanced news reporting and meteorology, explaining to students how augmented reality - technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on the user’s view of the real world - is used at ABC News. She read a book about the weather, asked students about their learning and answered their questions about the weather. We all wanted to know if snow was in the forecast! She is our favorite meteorologist!

WPS Mathematics Corner

Over the course of the past two months, I have had the opportunity to visit every building multiple times and observe math classes. I have seen many teachers and students engaged in working through the mathematics. Often, though, I am asked about “NEW” mathematics. Why do our students need to learn all of these “convoluted” methods for doing math when what we learned was much easier and faster? What was wrong with the way we learned math when we were in school?

When I first began teaching, everything was “procedural.” I taught my students how to answer all different types of problems. First, you do step one, then you do step two, etc. I was always amazed when students made errors on their assessments because I knew that they knew how to answer the questions. Then, one day, I had an epiphany. I had given a quiz on area, and asked my students to find the area of a rectangle with a length of 3 inches and a width of 8 inches. One of my 7th graders answered 24π square inches. I asked him where the π came from, and he answered, “Isn’t that the way you find area?”

I was floored. Throughout my discussion with that young man, and after reflecting on our conversation, I realized that by teaching only the procedures (as dictated by our textbook at that time) that he did not actually understand what area was, despite the fact that he nearly always got the right answers (when I gave him the formula.) Now, when I teach area, I do it differently. I start by giving the students one-inch square tiles and Post-It notes or index cards. I ask them to tell me the number of squares it takes to cover their item completely without any gaps or overlaps. We work through rectangles of several different dimensions until the students develop the definition for area: “The number of unit squares it takes to cover an object without gaps or overlaps.”

There is no formula to memorize here, but the activity teaches the students to arrange the squares in rows and columns and use that array to determine the area of a rectangle. When we switch to triangles, we start with right triangles which form half of a rectangle. Essentially, the students understand what the area is, and use that knowledge to determine ways to find it without relying on the need to memorize formulas and keep them straight.

Turning to other conceptual ideas, many of us were taught that when subtracting, we have to borrow. The narrative that goes along with that can get comical if we demonstrate a problem such as 200 - 37. “We have to take 7 from 0, but we can’t so we look next to the zero, and there’s nothing to borrow, so we look at the next place. There’s a 2 there, so we borrow 1. Cross off the 2 and write a little 1 there, then take the other 1 and make a 10, then cross off the 10 and make it a 9 so we can borrow 1 to make a 10. 10 - 7 = 3. Then 9 - 3 = 6, and 1 - 0 = 1, so we get 163 as our answer.” For argument’s sake, try using the narrative above to subtract fractions such as 514-34.

We teach our Kindergartners about “composing” and “decomposing” numbers to show them what numbers are and what they are made of. We teach them about “bundling” and “unbundling” tens so that they understand that they can exchange ten ones for one ten. Later, we bundle ten 10s to make one hundred. As they get older, we talk about bundling 4 quarters to make 1 whole or unbundling 1 into 4 quarters, but it is the same procedure.

Going back to our subtraction problem above: 200 - 37, we could read 200 as twenty tens. “We cannot take 7 ones from twenty tens because they are different units. We can take one of those tens and unbundle it to get ten ones, we can then subtract our 7 ones to get 3 ones. This leaves us with 19 tens minus 3 tens. We get 16 tens. So we have 16 tens and 3 ones or 163.” We get the same answer, but we have talked about it from the standpoint of understanding the mathematics rather than following a set of procedures.

Another way to look at subtraction comes from “real life.” Before cash registers dispensed change, if we went into a convenience store to buy a package of gum that cost 37 cents and paid with 2 dollars, the cashier would probably start out by taking three pennies and count out loud: “38, 39, 40,” then a dime, “50,” and two quarters, “1 dollar.” Then the cashier would pull out a dollar bill and say “2 dollars.” They would have given us a dollar, two quarters, a dime, and three pennies: $1.63. This is a perfectly valid procedure (we call it “counting up”) that works very effectively in real life, but, as you can see from this paragraph, can be very wordy and inefficient to record.

Note the similarity in the language used to solve the fraction problem above: 514-34, we need to subtract 34 from 14, but we need more fourths, so we have to unbundle a one of the 5 ones into 44. So we have taken one from 5 to get 4, and added the 44 to the 14 that was there before. This gives us 454-234=224=212. It is essentially the same procedure that we used to subtract whole numbers. Similar arguments are used with decimals and in Algebra.

Our Eureka Math series was developed in a manner similar to that of the the NJ Student Learning Standards in Math. A bunch of mathematicians, math educators, and developmental psychologists worked together to determine what students needed to know, understand, and produce at various stages of their development. This has led to various methods that we teach our students so that they can understand mathematics at a conceptual level BEFORE learning the algorithms and procedures that we were taught. As a result, when they learn the procedures, the steps make sense to them.

The representations that the students use for numbers and algebraic expressions help them to understand the mathematics at a level beyond simply finding the answers. It allows them to help make sense of word problems and applying the basic arithmetic into word problems, which, after all, is all of the mathematics that exists outside of textbooks. The structures and models used by our textbook are consistent from Kindergarten through high school.

We will talk more about these models at our Curriculum Night on February 20th. I hope to see you there. Thank you for your continued support!!!!!

WPS Science Corner

Schools Can’t Do It Alone - We Need Your help!

If we can spark children's curiosity of the outside world, then we can spark a love of Science. Dr. Yi-Chin Lan, a professor at the University of Texas, explains the importance of exploring the outside world with your child in an article written for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Even something as mundane as why the clouds are grey can spark a child's curiosity in Science.

Below are tips for parents that will extend Science learning from the classroom and build upon the knowledge they are receiving in school:

1.Value your child’s questions.

“Mommy, why is the moon following us?” With this question, a child lets us know she/he is thinking about how the world works. We can respond in ways that encourage her/his scientific thinking. Enjoy discussing the questions your child asks. Encourage her/him to share her perspective and observations.

2. Explore and find the answers together.

You don’t have to be your child's encyclopedia and quickly try to answer all your child’s questions. Responding with “What do you think?” or “I don’t know but we can find out together” can stimulate more thought and additional questions. Explore and find the answers together.

3. Give children time and space to explore.

Children learn science through trial and error. They need time to experiment, try things out, and think on their own. Wait before jumping in with "correct" answers. Give your child the time and space to explore and discover on her own.

4. Accept that explorations are often messy.

Whether it’s outdoor exploration with mud and sticks or indoors with water, children are likely to get dirty when they explore materials. Dress children in old clothing and tell them it’s ok to get dirty.

5. Learn from mistakes together.

If an experiment goes wrong, take advantage and investigate with your child to see what went wrong. A mistake can lead to all kinds of possibilities and it provides opportunities for you and your child to refine your ideas, understanding, and hypotheses.

6. Invite curiosity.

Science learning begins with curiosity. Observations and questions can create a climate of discovery – key to scientific learning. Children can learn a lot about science even at bath time. Let your child ask her own questions but you can also stimulate curiosity. For instance, when seeing a rubber duck float in the water, invite him to think by saying, “I wonder if the soap will also float?" See what questions she asks and what experiments she tries.

7. Support further exploration.

Intentional adult interactions with children can extend their learning. When the moment is right – maybe when she’s done exploring on her own, offer a suggestion to extend her exploration. Guide your child by asking questions like, “What might happen if we try this?”

Share some things you find while exploring, - a beautiful striped rock, for example. This lets your child know there is always something worthy of our attention and investigation.

8. Encourage children to record their observations.

Writing, drawing, or taking photographs are all ways to record observations - an important scientific skill. Such records allow children to keep track of what they saw, heard, questioned, or discovered. When you notice your child is interested in something (like the moon, leaves changing on the trees, or the growth of a plant) you can suggest ways for them to record what they have observed. “Do you want to draw that?” or “Do you want to take photos?” or “Do you want me to help you write down what you noticed?”

9. Make good use of your electronic devices.

Take pictures of a stunning butterfly, record frog sounds, use a website or app to learn more about a specific phenomenon or creature.

10. Use items you have at home to experiment and explore.

You don't need to spend money buying science supplies. Consider using materials you might have at home to learn about science principles.

WPS Curricula: Unit Competencies

As part of the district's curriculum writing initiative in Grades 1-12, unit competencies were embedded into every unit of study within every curriculum guide. These unit competencies are summative assessments that measure mastery of the knowledge and skills as laid out in the NJ Student Learning Standards.

Students in Grades 1-4 take one competency at the end of each module or unit of study in their major content areas while students in Grades 5-12 take two competencies at the middle and end of each module or unit of study in their major content areas.

As the district focuses on fewer overall summative assessments that more accurately measure what a student knows and is able to do, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Every unit of study in every content area does not start and end at the same time - a student may be in Unit 2 in Math but in Unit 3 in Science
  2. Each Marking Period or Trimester start and end date does not necessarily coincide with the start and end dates of any particular unit of study in any course
  3. The Report Card Grade represents the student's progress in each course at that exact moment in time. The student will continue to be formatively and summatively assessed and graded and as such, his/her overall grade in the course will remain in a state of flux up until the end of the course.

The video below, from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, does a great job of explaining the important role summative assessments play in the evaluation of student learning. Take a look!


Curriculum Writing & UbD

All of our curriculum guides in Willingboro Public Schools utilize the Understanding by Design (UbD) methodology, written by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, that offers a framework for designing courses and content units called “Backward Design.”

The backward design approach has instructors consider the learning goals of the course first. These learning goals embody the knowledge and skills instructors want their students to have learned when they leave the course. Once the learning goals have been established, the second stage involves consideration of assessment. The backward design framework suggests that instructors should consider these overarching learning goals and how students will be assessed prior to consideration of how to teach the content. For this reason, backward design is considered a much more intentional approach to course design than traditional methods.


Willingboro Public Schools Board of Education

Carlos Worthy - President

Debra Williams - Vice President

Tonya Brown

Gary Johnson

Laurie Gibson-Parker

Alexis Harkley

April Maxwell-Henley

Danielle Spinner

Daisy Maxwell-Cisse

WPS Office of Curriculum & Instruction

Ron Zalika

Director of Curriculum & Instruction


Jennifer Brandon

Supervisor of Instruction - Science


Michael Braverman

Supervisor of Instruction - Math


Sharon Williams

Supervisor of Instruction - Literacy