Friday, March 19, 1999
Team approach boosts seventh-grade curriculum
Although the four seventh-grade teachers represent the four disciplines of mathematics, language arts, social studies and science respectively, they share objectives for the 73 seventh graders in the Carlisle School. They all aim to improve students' critical thinking skills, their ability to communicate orally and in writing, and their capacity to work in a group and individually to organize, process and learn information.
At the school committee meeting on Tuesday, March 2, seventh-grade math teacher Susan Brinner passed around a large irregularly-shaped window screen to the school committee members. She explained that students are asked to determine the number of holes in the screen and write a paragraph expressing the method they used to reach the answer. Each paragraph must consist of a topic sentence and supportive details followed by a "clincher." When this is complete, they are asked to give an oral presentation in the classroom.
Science teacher Sara Bysshe provided some examples of problem-solving in an ecology unit. This unit includes projects on natural selection and evolution and asks the students to devise a scale model which will support 20 people on Mars. The students need to learn what to manufacture and how to negotiate in order to stay alive. Solutions showing the connectedness and interrelatedness of all aspects of the problem are very much influenced by the discipline of systems thinking.
According to seventh-grade language arts teacher Stephen Bober, when the program of systems thinking is integrated into the curriculum the students ask better questions and can test models while examining various conditions within the problem. When they read the Civil War novel Johnny Tremain, they are asked to write in response to questions, diagram time lines and graph relationships, comparisons and behavior. A checklist is provided so that each student will cover all objectives in the report.
Michael Miller, the fourth seventh-grade teacher, tries to have the students connect events in United States history to other class projects. He feels that a great deal can be learned while studying the industrial history in the United States or investigating the impact of the Louisiana Purchase on the population.
He tries to encourage connections between disciplines and has students write about such topics as what it would be like to be a farmer or a capitalist running the mills in Lowell.
Special education teacher Jessica Deyesso explained that the seventh grade is organized in groups of 15 students with one teacher in an advisee/advisor program. Each week, the advisor meets with the students to do everything from discussing what the students like, to developing social behavior skills, to assisting with preparations for various projects. With this system, the advisor has a better chance to understand and get to know the individual student. This teacher also provides the connection between home and school so parents are encouraged to call the advisor when questions surface. The system does not replace the regular school counselor because the interaction between student and advisor primarily centers on a task or topic. Impressed by the program, school committee member Cindy Nock commented, "The school is really addressing the needs of the whole child."
What makes the seventh-grade program work is the close connection between teachers. The system relies on coordination and provides structure and consistency to reinforce skills. The guidance needs of the students are considered, and by encouraging good interpersonal skills and cooperative decision-making, the teachers have tried to create "a community of learners."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito