Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

March 2021

Hamilton Township School District

Prompting Creativity In Students

How can creativity benefit your class? Creativity is the ability to think outside of the box and develop original ideas. Many people believe that creativity is focused on the arts; while it is cultivated in the arts, it can be fostered in any class!


Typical arts teachers will tell you that they feel pressured to focus their instruction on “the end product.” However, the truth is that focusing on the process over the product will aid in developing a creative mindset. When discussing creativity, ensure that students understand that it has nothing to do with their artistic abilities, but instead how well they can do the following:


Think of Multiple Solutions: Pushing a student beyond one idea can be challenging, but we must encourage them to brainstorm multiple solutions to a problem. Start with something easy and progress towards more complex problem solving.


Develop Original Ideas: Encourage students to look beyond the obvious and develop unique ideas. When presenting students with a problem, have them start by responding with the most obvious or cliché ideas. Then, have them develop ideas beyond those typical responses.


Make Connections: Use divergent questions to help students look for and make connections.


Encouraging students to utilize methods like Design Thinking and Mind Mapping will aid in the creative process. Additionally, developing activities that vary in theme and subject matter will show students that creative thinking can be applied universally—not only in the arts. Presenting students with problems to solve from other content areas can create interdisciplinary connections and opportunities.

Using Essential Questions to Foster Inquiry in the Science Classroom

As teachers we all recognize the importance of teachable moments, and catching the wave of interest in students when one rolls in. But how can we purposefully generate that interest? Essential questions are a great way to spark thought and inquiry in the science class. Essential questions

  • Are open ended without a single definitive answer.

  • Require students to synthesize information across a range of sources and perspectives as they progress through a topic.

  • Create intrinsic motivation by situating the subject matter within an authentic context.

  • Can’t be answered by a simple internet search.

  • Connect to the big ideas of science

  • Serve as a touchstone throughout a unit of study and can help bind science classes together.

The richest essential questions have complex roots and raise new questions as they are revisited over time.

Well crafted essential questions might center around explaining a puzzling phenomena, while others can help students connect to a broad range of social issues and ask students to create value judgments. Regardless of which type of question is used, when science teachers frame their units using essential questions they provide students with another pathway to learn science content.


Scaffolding and Differentiating with English Language Learners

Although complementary, scaffolding and differentiating are unique in their meaning and in teaching. Both are important in teaching and both are needed when teaching ELs. When deciding which to use with which student or groups of students, it is important to understand what each means and how they can be used to benefit students in either the whole group or in their individual needs.


Differentiation refers to meeting the needs of individual students. When it comes to ELs, differentiation may often be based on WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors. These descriptors help to tell what a child can do in each of the four language domains. Therefore, teachers can design an individual student’s lesson around what the student can do in order for he/her to be successful.


Scaffolding are strategies teachers use to help students solve problems on their own. Unlike differentiation, scaffolding strategies can be presented to the whole class and/or to individual students. The goal of scaffolding is for the teacher to give the students tools/techniques so that they can solve problems. These may include but are not limited, mini lessons, visual supports, sentence frames, sentence stems, graphic organizers, etc.

With ELs, scaffolding would be the initial strategy to use when presenting new material. From there, the teacher can differentiate based on the needs of individual students. In addition, some scaffolding techniques may be used to differentiate for the student. Both however, are strategies that will help ELs achieve their individual learning goals.

Ideas for Virtual Community-Building

A major foundation to building on engagement is building or sustaining that community, whether it is in person or remotely. In the spirit of the HTSD Engagement Challenge, here are pointers on how to assist students in getting more involved in a lesson, not only with their teachers, but also with their peers. Although today’s classroom may look a little different than the traditional classroom we are accustomed to, there are still many ways to assist in building or sustaining your virtual/in-person classroom community.


Mutual Sharing

Short Check-ins: At the start of each session, each student can verbally respond to a specific question.


Masked Selfie Activity: Students can prepare their selfie prior to the meeting and share. "Reveal" what lies behind the mask, literally and figuratively!

  • Health/ PE Example- This can be done with the Google Meet chat box or polling and Pear Deck to name a few;

  • World Language Example- This would be done in the target language in writing or verbally.


Writing

Autobiographical writing: Provide opportunities for students to write in ways that are meaningful, personal, and creative. Create a space for students to share with one another.

  • Health/ PE Example- One can focus on the SEL Competencies, especially Self Awareness and Self Management.

  • World Language Example- One can work on a presentational writing activity that may also have focus on cultural components.


Music

Background Music: Play music as students log onto Google Meet and begin class routines. This can assist in breaking the ice during an awkward first couple of minutes of silence. You may even allow DJ Requests. Allow students to provide song requests via Google Classroom or Google Forms.

  • Health/ PE Example- Tempo is everything. Do you want it to be an upbeat song that works with your warm up or a lighter song to calm and focus the students towards a specific task.

  • World Language Example- Music is a staple in culture! Allow the music to relate to your thematic units. Students may also be challenged to translate or express the wording and meaning of a song in the target language.

Mathematics is Everywhere

Math is in a unique position among STEAM topics: it’s considered important across all STEAM fields, but unfortunately notoriously hard to engage students with. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that in the US, approximately 70% of 4th grade females report an interest in math, but by 8th grade, this figure falls to 53%.


It’s time to work toward turning that statistic around. It’s easy to view art and math as completely separate subjects. Right brain versus left brain. Creative versus analytical. Imaginative versus practical. Sometimes students see themselves as “an art person” or “a math person” but in reality they can be both.

The following areas are a small sample of where the beauty of mathematics can be found:

  • Patterns

  • Symmetry

  • Fractals

  • Pi

  • The Golden Ratio

  • The Banach-Tarski Paradox


Mathematics is visible everywhere in nature, even where we are not expecting it. It can help explain the way galaxies spiral, seashells curve, patterns replicate, and rivers bend. The beauty and enjoyment of math is in the patterns, concepts, or in the explanations. By helping students see the connections in art and math, we can strengthen their skills in each.

Figurative Language is Everywhere

During National Poetry Month (April), students all over the country will be asked to read and write poetry. Additionally, many teachers will ask students to identify and interpret the figurative language and imagery found in various poems. However, figurative language can be found everywhere -- if you actively search for it, it will practically jump off the page and bite you (see what I did there?)!


Figurative language is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives -- it can be found in advertising, music, books, newspaper articles, and, quite often, in daily conversations. The use of figurative language strengthens verbal and written communication; it can help our students -- across all content areas -- communicate more clearly, support their opinions, and provide more descriptive details.


If your students glaze over when you say poetry, ask students to find examples of figurative language in the world around them. Great places to search include newspaper headlines, song lyrics, advertisements, famous speeches, and conversations with friends and family.


To take it a step further, ask students to revisit something they’ve written (a journal prompt, short response/paragraph, a letter to an elected official, opinion piece, blog post, etc.) and incorporate one or two devices (simile, hyperbole, etc.) to strengthen their writing. Remind students that figurative language can strengthen all types of writing, not just narrative or creative writing pieces.


Lastly, when you come across figurative language in the texts read in class, occasionally stop and ask students why they think the author chose the particular device. What effect was he or she trying to achieve? Was it successful? In their opinion, is there something else that may have been more effective? Before you know it, your students’ writing will blossom before your eyes!

Wise Feedback: Feedback to Motivate All Learners

Many of you have utilized the “Sandwich Method” when providing teacher feedback in your Social Studies classes. In a feedback sandwich, the teacher layers constructive feedback between two instances of positive feedback. Although this approach can be beneficial, it can also be limiting and get in the way of effective, meaningful feedback and communication that will produce performance improvement results for all students. In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond, Hammond states that in order for feedback to be effective, it is important that we, as educators, “engage our students’ willingness to act on [the teacher’s feedback].” As you continue to integrate writing in your Social Studies classes, consider utilizing Wise Feedback as an alternative approach that could assist with getting our Social Studies students to act on the feedback you provide on their writing assignments.


Wise Feedback is personalized feedback that conveys high expectations, the teacher's sincere confidence in the student's ability, and specific actionable steps to assist the student in raising the quality of his/her work. By proactively giving a constructive explanation, Wise Feedback prevents students from misinterpreting remarks from the teacher as negatively biased. It communicates to the student that the teacher is providing specific, ambitious feedback because the standards of the class are high and the teacher is confident that the student has the skills and motivation to meet them. So the next time you are planning on providing feedback to a student or to the class as a whole on a Social Studies writing assignment, consider utilizing the Wise Feedback approach.


Here are three elements of providing Wise Feedback and what it could look like in a Social Studies classroom:

  • State High Expectations: The teacher describes the high standards and why they are being used to evaluate the student’s work and generate the instructional feedback.

    • Ex: “The goal for today’s lesson was to develop a thesis paragraph for your DBQ Essay. The thesis should express your main argument concisely and explain why your argument is historically significant.”

  • Assure Confidence in the Student’s Ability: The teacher states that the student has the skills necessary to successfully meet those standards.

    • Ex: “From your work on your last DBQ essay you have shown me that you have the skills and motivation to improve your work.”

  • State Specific Actionable Steps: The teacher provides specific, prioritized steps that can be addressed by the student to assist in academic growth.

    • Ex: “I’ve identified three points to address that would make your thesis clearer and more effective in communicating the historical significance. Please address each one and let me know if you have any questions.”

Dear Data Guy

What is a Lexile score?


That’s a great question. A Lexile score is a Framework for understanding a student’s ability level and the instructional level for a student. This score when used correctly can give the educator the ability to find materials that are appropriate for the student. Additionally, there are two kinds of Lexile measures; reader measures and text measures. The reading measure tells us about our student’s reading ability whereas the text measures tell us the difficulty of a text, such as a book, magazine article, etc. A beginning reader would be at a 0 Lexile Level, whereas an advanced reader is at a 1600 Lexile Level. Lexile.com has additional information on Lexile scores including how to measure growth with Lexile scores. Some of our assessments in Linkit! have Lexiles so you are able to measure growth through the platform.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

We made it to Spring...


During the Fall & Winter, we offered 73 workshops and processed 616 registrations for session attendance. I thank you for your continued participation; this confirms our district's ongoing commitment to professional learning.


With Spring, comes a new "menu" of offerings. In the coming days, we will release our 20 Spring offerings that will run from April 14th - June 3rd. We anticipated opening registration (via MLP) on Wednesday, April 7th.


Hope you can join us!

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum & Instruction

Supervisors

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEM/STEAM

Sandra Jacome, ESL & Title I Pre-K

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