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Interdisciplinary learning launched at Needham High with grant

Posted by Laura Franzini  November 15, 2012 10:56 AM

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The Needham Education Foundation Wednesday awarded a start-up grant of $111,500 to fund a pilot program in interdisciplinary learning at Needham High School, including an innovative course planned for fall 2013.

According to the foundation, the grant was announced at the Needham School Committee meeting Wednesday night.

"This is a very exciting advance that will have a profound impact not only on our students, but also on Needham's standing as one of the state's premier school districts," said Needham Public School Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst.

The grant is the largest in the 22-year history of the NEF. It provides resources for the pilot year of a new interdisciplinary course, which has been developed by Needham High educators in collaboration with the NEF.

The course will help students learn to make crucial connections between academic disciplines and develop problem-solving skills that are essential for success in higher education and beyond.

"Students who take the course will gain vulnerable skills in the cross-disciplinary thinking that is expected in top colleges--and that is crucial for success in so many academic and professional endeavors," said Jonathan Pizzi, principal of Needham High School, who was joined by teachers and NEF leaders to describe the course to School Committee members Wednesday.

According to the NEF, a 2009 accreditation report of Needham High by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) identified the need for formalized opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. The district set a goal to implement an interdisciplinary course at the school in its 2013 to 2016 school improvement plan.

The program emerged from the NEF's Collaborative Initiative, created in 2006, in which the NEF works closely with the Needham Public Schools administration to fund large, multi-year initiatives that will have major, strategic impact on education--yet would not be possible within the current school operating budget.

"Community support of the NEF over the years is making it possible for us to seed innovation on a large scale in Needham schools," NEF Co-president Brooke Baker said. “Funding and helping to develop this course has been a real partnership with district educators to provide maximum impact in Needham public schools.”

In early 2012, five teams of teachers responded to NEF’s request for proposal to develop a high school course that combined local resources, community service, project-based learning, and an interdisciplinary focus. “The Greater Boston Project” was chosen for full course development and received a $31,000 NEF grant for research and development, which proceeded over the summer with consulting help from Olin College professors.

The resulting course, called Integrated Senior Studies: The Greater Boston Project, will launch in fall 2013 and focus on specific periods in Boston’s history. The program, for up to 75 seniors, will meet for two consecutive class periods daily and will be taught collaboratively by three experienced teachers. Students will earn 8 academic credits (four English, two math, and two social studies).

The grant for the course’s pilot year was approved by the NEF last month. If the program is deemed successful, school officials will request operational funding in the district-funded budget for future years. The NEF will continue to work with the district to expand interdisciplinary learning in other courses and other grades.

For more information on interdisciplinary learning and other innovations in education, residents can attend the NEF's community event "Flipped Classrooms and Broken Silos: Education Trends in Needham and Beyond" on November 28 at 7 p.m. at the Newman School auditorium. Visit www.nefneedham.org for more information.

Laura Franzini can be reached at laura.franzini@globe.com.

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