Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

March 2020


Building a Better Tomorrow ... Together

Keys to Positive Math Mindset

I’m just not a math person.” How many of you have heard this phrase before? From students? From parents? From fellow teachers and colleagues?

Oftentimes the only focus of math instruction is to get the “correct answer” as quickly as possible, while following a prescribed set of rules and formulas. In the classroom, help students face their anxieties and build confidence levels by providing opportunities for them to persevere, make mistakes, and take risks with new ideas. Mathematics teaching and learning is about the beauty of patterns and the power of solutions to solve meaningful problems.

What is necessary for you to:

  • see that math is much more than just procedures;

  • understand that there are many ways to get to the solution of a problem;

  • be brave enough to put down the teacher’s manual, and create rich mathematical tasks that inspire curiosity and creativity, promote collaboration, and deepen critical thinking?

This shift is not something that happens overnight or because of one professional development presentation. It requires a sustained focus throughout the year, giving you the time and tools needed to solve rich mathematical problems, first-hand. Find ways to work -- both independently and collaboratively with colleagues -- in a safe environment where you can share your thinking and engage in thoughtful discussion. You might find that an entire class period could be spent discussing one rich problem that students can solve in multiple ways, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Remote Learning with Newsela

Newsela is offering a great deal of support to teachers and students during this period of remote learning. Log on to Newsela and click on Educator Center to view what they have to offer. Choose from live webinars focusing on how to connect to your students outside of the classroom to short videos that will help you get started (if you’re new to the site).

You will also find a Remote Learning Toolkit that offers introductory videos for teachers, several mini lessons (in video format) created specifically for students, and many instructional resources, tools, and tips to help you connect with your students.

Students who don’t have computers at home can download the Newsela Student app. The Newsela Student app is available on both iOS and Android and offers students the same access to content. The app can run offline, providing students the ability to read articles and complete assessments. When the device next comes back online, it will submit any work that was completed while offline. Students can download the iOS app in the Apple App Store or the Android app in the Google Play Store.

Managing Your Remote Learning Classes

As we move into remote learning, we are all looking for tools and strategies to assist with the current learning environment. This creates opportunities to promote new norms, set new expectations (with some flexibility of course), and build a culture within your remote learning setting.

One focus should be the ability to manage the online classroom. Some best practices in our usual environments should not be forgotten simply because we are in a remote setting. Just as in the beginning of the school year, setting expectations and routines are crucial for success. It is important to remember to also keep building on the classroom community you had when you were back in the classroom.


  • Create a fun and engaging online environment. Google Meet so students can see you and their peers, Google Hangouts or Flipgrid to chat/message you and their peers, Padlet to create a parking lot for Q&A and even exit tickets.

  • Create a way to feel present, and it does not have to be live. This can be done on a platform that allows you to give students feedback, such as Remind, Google Classroom, or Flipgrid.

  • Establish norms for office hours and video conferencing. Students can be taught how to ask questions without interrupting the current speaker. For instance, when on camera with a group of talking heads, ask students to hold up the index finger to indicate a response to what’s being discussed and two fingers to indicate they want to bring up something new.

  • Teach about plagiarism. Cheating online is easier, but it’s also easier to catch. Teach what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

  • Keep in contact. Communicate with small groups of students and also the whole class regularly. Recognize when it is time to do a one on one intervention and email a student and/or parent directly (or even call).

Indigenous Languages in Latin America

Indigenous languages are languages native to a particular region/people within a particular country. Of the 21 Spanish speaking countries throughout the world, indigenous languages make up about eight percent of the Hispanic population and fourteen percent of the poor population. For example, Mexico has 67 indigenous languages while Guatemala has 24. In 2019, UNESCO launched a website specific to indigenous languages throughout the world to raise awareness and preserve these endangered languages.

Of all the indigenous languages in South America, Quechua is the most common that is still surviving. Although it is spoken by millions of people in Latin American countries, it is still considered an endangered language as Spanish is becoming more prominent. However, it is a recognized language in these countries and speakers of Quechua may request to have government documents translated.

Most indigenous languages like Quechua are quite different from Spanish. For example, the numbers one, two, and three in Spanish are uno, dos, and tres. In Quechua, they are huk, iskay, and kimsa. In the United States, most people presume that someone from a Latin American country speaks Spanish. For indigenous speakers, this is a problem when attending hospitals, courts, schools, etc. where Spanish is the predominant language besides English. As a result, indigenous languages like Quechua are becoming endangered as more pressure is placed on people who speak it to switch to Spanish due to social, economic, and political pressures.

Artistic and Visual Thinking Practices to Teach Culture

As educators, we are responsible for providing engaging activities which foster empathy and compassion, teach the value of multiple perspectives, and encourage respect for differences. The arts are a leading resource and strong foundation on which to nurture empathy and emotional intelligence. Vast possibilities to intensify learning exist by integrating the arts into lesson planning and teaching.

Artistic practices can be utilized to help students navigate social relations and connect to people with cultural differences. The artworks seen above are often referenced to teach close reading and visual thinking skills.

Similar to the close reading of literature, close reading of artwork involves a critical analysis which focuses on significant details and develops a deeper understanding. Students should pay close attention to the values and beliefs of the culture when close reading, comparing and contrasting, discussing, and writing. The following questions are meant to foster empathy and acceptance and break down cliques and intolerance.

What do you see in the artwork?

At first, students should withhold interpretations and focus solely on their observations. This strengthens their ability to reason through practice making sustained observations before jumping into judgment.

What do you think is happening? If this artwork is the middle of the story, what might have happened before? What do you think is about to happen? What do you wonder?

This routine will stimulate curiosity, help students discover complexity, and encourage multiple points of view- with no wrong answers.

What could have been happening in history when this artwork was made? Does that change your understanding of the artwork? The artworks above might include the Mughal Empire and/or the Harlem Renaissance, African American culture, and identity. When students investigate and discuss work from diverse cultures, they may begin to comprehend ambiguity and appreciate differing perspectives.

Choose a person in the artwork and step into their point of view. How might they feel? What might they know ? How might your interpretation be different from someone of another culture? This routine encourages perspective taking, projection, and empathic thinking. Use it when you want students to see beyond the surface, make personal connections, and explore different viewpoints.

Big picture

Modifying Labs for Students with Special Needs

As educators we spend a lot of time modifying tests, quizzes, and other assignments to fit students’ needs, but often we overlook labs. When we do think about labs, we typically group students with strong students for “support.” This can lead to a meaningless experience for students as they miss out on the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.

Accommodations are changes made to the lab environment, the lab equipment, or how the lab is completed for a student. Examples of lab accommodations include:

  • Ensuring the lab space is user-friendly, such as wide aisles, uncluttered lab tables, use of plastic rather than glass, and adjustable height work areas.

  • Alternative work spaces - specifically for students who might find the chaotic environment of a lab too distracting. Consider allowing them to work in alternate locations.

  • Change how information is recorded - make labs digital so students can type directly into the lab, or add in more white space to a hard copy.

  • Provide procedures in multiple modalities - include photos and diagrams to supplement text and verbal directions.

Modifications involve changing the content of the lab, and therefore modifying your expectations of what the student is expected to complete. Examples of modifications include:

  • Change the expectations of the lab - eliminate non essential parts of the lab, particularly tasks that are repetitive, and then simplify directions and questions, and use sentence starters as prompts for open ended questions.

  • Group homogeneously - if you have a group of students who might find a lab too overwhelming, group them together and modify the lab for the group. Homogeneous grouping can also be useful if you want to force students to work at a high level, such as a group needing enrichment. For students with special needs, it can increase their comfort level, so they are more likely to participate.

Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is a name that comes to mind every February (Black History) and March (Women’s History). Rosa Parks’ arrest on December 1, 1955, led to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and sparked the civil rights movement. While Rosa Parks will be forever known as “the mother of the civil rights movement,” it’s imperative that we also acknowledge the tribulations of other females during that time period, such as Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, and Mary Louise Smith.

It was these four women who served as plaintiffs in the legal action challenging Montgomery's segregated public transportation system. Browder v. Gayle (1956) was a District Court case that legally ended segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. This Supreme Court case is a great example of why - when teaching history - we must be sure to include and acknowledge the unsung heroes of major historical events. Here’s a video to learn more about Aurelia Browder and the other women who assisted in the crusade for racial equality.

Dear Data Guy

Instructional Systems (ex. i-Ready, Study Island, Imagine Math, etc.)

In this month’s version of Dear Data Guy, I thought it would be good to go provide some suggestions about using instructional systems.


  • It is important to monitor all instructional systems on a daily basis. Here is a list of some important questions:

    • How long does it take for my students to complete the lessons?

    • Are my students passing the lessons?

    • Are my students completing the required number of lessons?

  • Based on the answers to these questions, teachers should adjust/assign lessons accordingly.

Virtual Check ins/Data Chats:

  • Immediate and timely feedback is the key to good instruction. Think about the resources available to you to communicate with your students. It doesn’t hurt to have a good old fashioned phone conversation with your student, or a check-in using Zoom/Google Hangouts.

  • Here are some questions to ask:

    • How are you doing in the lessons? What do you find hard/easy?

    • Do you require any assistance or help from your parents?

    • What is your goal? 70% pass rate, 80% pass rate

Notes from Mr. Scotto

As of the writing of this newsletter, we are about to enter week three of our remote learning plan. When I entered education twenty-five years ago, I never thought schools would manage teaching and learning in a remote fashion.

Well, here we are.......trying to plan and instruct our students from home. As we continue to work through this time, I strongly encourage you to reflect on the following questions to ensure we continue to provide HTSD students with a high quality education:

  • Am I beginning to introduce new content (or am I just reviewing previously taught material)?
  • Is my webpage up-to-date and user-friendly to students and families?
  • When is the last time I reviewed the resources provided by my department supervisor?
  • How am I reaching all of my students (regardless of access)?
  • How do I know my students are understanding the material that is being covered during the remote learning period?
  • Is there a colleague I can contact who is successful with remote instruction?
  • Do I need to sign up for virtual PD?

Just some food for thought.....

Keep up the good work, HTSD.

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum & Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEM/STEAM

Sandra Jacome, ESL

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Danielle Tan, Visual and Performing Arts