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Burrell schools adding classes, buying textbooks and materials

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Burrell School District students will have several new classes to choose from next school year.

Also, elementary and middle school students will begin using new math textbooks and materials that are more in line with the district's push to improve science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) skills.

The school board on Tuesday approved the curriculum changes, which are estimated to cost a total of $120,000, mostly for the new math supplies. Superintendent Shannon Wagner has said the money will be pulled from reserve funds.

At the high school, four new technology-based classes will be added: emerging technology, Microsoft networking, sports and entertainment marketing and management, and Microsoft Excel/Access database programs.

“We want to give the students the ability to choose,” said Sharon Storch, a teacher who oversees the district's technology curriculum.

The new classes will join existing classes: accounting, programming and web design.

Since middle school students are taking more classes geared at basic computer skills, Storch indicated the district needed more offerings for high school students to fulfill their technology requirements.

The technology classes each are one semester long, and all but the networking class will be added at no cost. Storch said the networking class requires the addition of a protected network at a cost of about $2,000.

Also added at the high school were four online English classes that fall under the heading Genres of Fiction.

English teacher Dawn Lovic said the classes each will be nine weeks long and don't have to be taken together or in any order.

She said they will help students who end up needing a quarter-credit class to fulfill requirements.

The classes will include: Arthurian fiction dealing with the legend of King Arthur; science fiction; mysteries around the world; and fairy tales.

Lovic said the classes will involve a lot of comparisons within the genres and creative writing components.

She plans to use books that are in the common domain, so adding the classes would not cost anything. Lovic said.

The most costly curriculum projects will involve buying new math textbooks and materials for students in grades kindergarten through five, and seven through nine. Assistant Superintendent Matthew Conner said all of the current elementary and middle school math texts in those grades are more than 10 years old.

Elementary math teacher Julie Hazlett said the elementary grades will be moving to the McGraw-Hill “My Math” series.

Conner said the series will help move teachers away from the “plug and chug” method of teaching math and allow students to get a more hands-on, interactive, thoughtful experience in learning math.

“This should radically shift how we teach,” Wagner said.

Hazlett said the lessons involve a lot of problem-solving. They include online components that can assist students in class or at home. She said the package includes assessment tools that will help teachers determine where students are struggling and offer suggestions for addressing deficiencies or providing enrichment activities for more gifted learners.

In the middle school, Principal Brian Ferra said expanding the new “Big Ideas” math series that was piloted in sixth grade this year will allow for similar teaching methods as students move through more advanced math and algebra.

The series will be added to seventh through ninth grades next year.

“This will fall in nicely with the rest of the initiatives,” board Vice President Ron Slater said, referring to the STEM-oriented changes at the elementary level.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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