N.Y. District Revitalizes Curricula With New Math & Science Packages

Across the country, math and science teachers are being asked to emphasize conceptual understanding of their subjects rather than mastery of isolated skills. In response to that challenge, the Niagara Falls School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has launched a pilot project centered around a multimodal, technology-based solution that covers the entire K-12 math and science curricula. A Collaboration of Teachers The project began last fall with the participation of two schools; three more came aboard over the summer. The entire district will be participating over the next three years. Through a districtwide network, a group of instructors are collaborating on the development, dissemination and management of curricular units, to be electronically transmitted to classrooms. All teachers received specialized training on the software during a five-day workshop this summer. At the end of the workshop, they were given a color laptop computer, which will be designated as the teacher workstation in each classroom. Currently, there are four computers in each district classroom and an additional four to six machines in student labs and libraries. The elementary schools utilize mainly Macintosh models while the middle and high schools use IBM compatibles, all loaded with ClarisWorks and a variety of other applications. Shirley McCormick and Ann Rose Mallo, curriculum and technology specialists, are training teachers and students with the project software, Rediscover Science and Rediscover Mathematics, from Edunetics Corp., Arlington, Va. McCormick says all involved have thus far expressed great enthusiasm over the packages, which reflect guidelines and standards established by the NCTM and AAAS and support strategies endorsed by various state and district frameworks to empower young students as active learners. "The Niagara Falls School District was looking for something that was going to match our district goals," explains McCormick. She adds that the Rediscover series includes an extensive set of offline activities that demonstrate the real-life relevance of math and science. "We didn't want to just put five computers in a classroom." Labs Support Further Learning Participating classes may spend 20-30% of their time with the software's core lessons, organized by theme and content area. Teachers then draw upon literally hundreds of suggested lab activities, science projects and reading, writing and thinking exercises. An open management system lets teachers plan units, activities and tests; assign/track students and classes; view/print progress and mastery data; and grade work. It also allows third-party software to be installed as either lessons or productivity tools. Through an embedded student portfolio component, meanwhile, one can observe the dynamics of the learning procedure and view the aggregate of student progress and achievement-the way they interact, create and conduct projects, and solve problems. McCormick says she is particularly impressed with the high quality and diversity of the packages' activities, which range from simulations and explorations to interactive tutorials. She cites one unit entitled Act & Impact, which includes a segment on civil rights activist Rosa Parks. The online lesson allows students to garner detailed information on this event. The Niagara Falls School District has formed a partnership with Edunetics to deliver curriculum to grades K-12 during the five-year implementation plan. Aiding Teachers' Evolution Throughout the process, Edunetics has provided comprehensive training and support, including onsite workshops and weekly conference calls. "You just can't dump software in the classroom" and expect dramatic results, notes McCormick. In fact, the entire Edunetics product line adheres to an approach known as Instructional Curriculum Integration, in which teachers deliver curriculum, facilitate electronic learning and assess student achievement. Based on her observations, McCormick says the approach succeeds-by imparting essential skills as well as motivating and preparing students for more advanced math and science studies.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.