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Curriculum changes aim to reduce student stress

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The Rockville Centre School District has made some changes to its curriculum at the high school this school year. South Side High School principal John Murphy gave an update at the Oct. 3 board of education meeting.

“This summer was a busy summer,” Murphy said. “There were 15 curriculum projects happening due to a wealth of changes in the building.”

Some of the changes include the combination of International Baccalaureate (I.B.) and Regents English and history courses for 11th-graders. This year is the first year these courses are co-seated, preparing students for the Regents exams while differentiating instruction based on the level of difficulty chosen by the student. In the foreign language classes, Murphy said that since I.B. Spanish and French have new assessments, those curriculums were revised, and changes were made in theater courses.

“We’re participating in a pilot in theater,” Murphy said, “and are one of 12 schools piloting a new course, the theme of which is permeating all the changes to I.B. English. More is not necessarily better.”

He explained that, as students tend to be “existing” in an “increasingly complex world” there is a new approach that limits the students’ workload and time spent on course work.

“The number of I.B. assessments students are responsible for over the two years have been cut in half,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t mean the course is any less challenging, but the physical work the student has to produce externally has been curtailed, ultimately to give them time to think.”

In theater, he said the word count has been reduced to focus on quality not quantity.

In math, Murphy said the revisions are coming up in the next two years.

“We’re envisioning the two-year sequence and asking, can we give our most sophisticated students the options they have now…but also offer two-year options for those students who still want to challenge themselves, but would rather take a more deliberative two-year approach to a sequence of courses with more applications like math,” Murphy said. “Those would be for students gravitating toward the social sciences or humanities but still want a challenging math rigor. In other words can we still provide that same product we’ve always grown accustomed to, keeping them as prepared as possible, but also sequencing the course over one or two years to alleviate some of the stress.”

For the Living Environment class, the district has partnered with Hofstra University and the National Science Foundation through a grant, initiating a four-year pilot called STEM plus C.

“The research involves computational problem solving and coding,” Murphy said, “and the question is, if you immerse coding principles toward kids’ many lessons in coding in existing science coursework, what would happen?” He added, “It is programming, but it’s teaching them immersive coding modules, the goal of which is to find out, do students learn better through coding through STEM, basically.”

Trustee Liz Dion asked for clarification of the program and which students take it. Murphy said the grant is a four-year program, strictly for Living Environment classes in 10th grade.

“We’ve talked for years about doing more around STEM at a higher level,” Dr. Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said, “and this is a perfect example of that. John found an opportunity to embed coding into an existing course.”