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Pikesville High School leads push toward interdisciplinary projects

To embrace the Common Core Standards, Pikesville High School teachers have begun preparing transdisciplinary projects with their coworkers, a focal point of the new system.

By Olivia Adams

Pipeline Editor-in-Chief

As Maryland Public Schools prepare for the transition to the Common Core Standards, a multi-state initiative of math, reading and writing standards that the majority of U.S. public schools will begin to follow, Pikesville High School remains a step ahead of the rest. All PHS teachers this year have been preparing projects that travel across subject lines, levels and grades, a new standard set forth by the Common Core.

PHS Principal, Mr. Edmund Mitzel, places great emphasis on the importance of piloting new county and statewide programs, and, as a result, PHS has hosted several pilot programs in recent years. These programs include a new teacher evaluation process, world language classes in Mandarin, and transdisciplinary projects.

“It takes what you learn from the two classes and goes beyond it to some higher order application,” Mr. Mike Barberesi, economics and philosophy teacher, said of the new Common Core initiative. “…[the teachers] were supposed to implement [the project] in the second semester so that we can come back together as a faculty and reflect on what went well, what we would do differently, and how we could carry on in the future.”

Along with Mr. Barberesi, Mr. Scott Nichols, math and engineering teacher, has been preparing a project in which AP Statistics students will create regression graphs in order to compare unconventional data. AP Economics students will then analyze said graphs and discuss the macroeconomic applications of the data.

Both of these teachers are responsible for AP classes, but the time needed to complete the project will not hinder students’ studying time or score for the extensive May AP tests. Part of this project will take place before the test, and part will take place afterwards in order to allow ample time for test preparation.

“Whenever you’re taught to think outside of the box, that really aides in Advanced Placement classes and in the real world,” Mr. Nichols said.

Another cross curricular project at PHS brings together art, music and French students in an attempt to widen student’s perspectives and knowledge on these various subjects.

“We’re going on a field trip to the [Baltimore Museum of Art]. We decided that since the strongest influence of the French was during impressionism, we would go on a guided tour of their impressionist exhibits, where they can expand more on what influence the French had on the art. [Mr. Russell Gartner] is going into [Ms. Heather Corasaniti’s] French class and will try to teach [those students] French songs, while he is also teaching his chorus these songs,” Mr. Brotzman, PHS art teacher said.

A wide range of students at PHS take Mr. Brotzman’s art class not because of a true interest in the subject, but rather because a fine arts credit is required for graduation. Mr. Brotzman wishes to help students garner a deeper appreciation and understanding for the arts through his interdisciplinary project that they may not have experienced before this year.

“I try also to explain to [my students] that as you go out as an adult and socialize, you want to have other topics that you can discuss. If you know a little more, in this case art, music and language, then you have a little more to choose from [when conversing with others],” Mr. Brotzman said. “I just think it allows student to broaden their horizons more, to more actively participating in social conversation.”

This new addition of interdisciplinary projects to high school curriculums reflects a major change in the U.S. public education system. Now, more emphasis is placed on student creativity and independence rather than the ability for teachers to write step-by-step instructions for every assignment or concept.

“It was all about providing scaffolds for students, going from one step to the next step. The common core is the complete opposite of that. It is all about, we’ve been baby stepping students through the concepts too much, and we need to give them the opportunity to swim on their own,” Mr. Barberesi said of his experiences during his master’s degree program for education. 

The only challenge thus far from the project stems from finding a balance between giving students too much instruction and allowing them to figure things out on their own. This may be a struggle for some teachers throughout the county and the state as the Maryland public school system transitions from a dependent to an independent approach towards learning. However, for others, the transition should be seamless.

“I feel like the new transdisciplinary application is something that a lot of people have already done. It’s just now part of the measurement that your school needs to actually show evidence of,” Mr. Nichols said. “…something good teachers already do is they make the connection across different topics and disciplines. That’s natural.”

           

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