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Pittsfield School's Curriculum Panel OKs 2 Pilot Courses
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
10:23AM / Saturday, November 05, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass.  — The Pittsfield Public Schools' curriculum subcommittee voted to approve two pilot courses during its meeting on Tuesday night. 
The "History of Math" course has been in the works for over a year. It would be a half-year elective to ensure it is accessible to students who have an interest in the topic since all half-year electives are currently either English or history based. 
Pittsfield High School math teachers Mary Morrison and Jennifer Gaudette developed this course as a way to answer one of the most common questions they are confronted with -- "when will we ever need to know this." 
"So the thing I hear over and over again, from students is that they don't feel like they're heard as a person that the curriculum is delivered, and they just have to learn stuff that the teacher keeps telling them," one subcommittee member said. 
Through the course material they hope to form a connection between the students and the curriculum "by exploring roots and the history of the content," the teachers said in their presentation. 
During the course, students will explore theorems and discuss mathematicians who contributed to math content but are not recognized for their accomplishments, and make cross-cultural connections to other courses students are studying. 
"Students will explore a range of topics and diverse and multicultural offerings, including Babylonians, Egyptians, ancient Chinese," Gaudette said. 
This course will be available to students who have already completed Algebra 1 and Geometry. They can take this course alongside taking Algebra 2 but it would be useful to already have the algebra skills. 
The duo consulted with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts professors Frances Jones-Sneed, who specializes in history and women's studies, and Christopher Thomas, who teaches 300 level math courses. 
They consulted Jones-Sneed to make sure the curriculum was equitable and inclusive when it comes to what resources they would be using within the course. 
Many subcommittee members expressed how excited they were regarding this course and that it has the potential to encourage students to explore a wide range of topics. 
"I just think it's a really great and unique idea. I love that you were able to take a college course and pare it down to make it more accessible," one subcommittee member said. 
After completing the pilot semester they would have to have it approved as a final course. 
Taconic High School Vice Principal Ryan Sabourin and social studies teacher Neill Brandon presented a course that Brandon developed while he was working at Medway High School in 2014 and was very popular. 
Taconic began to pilot this course at the beginning of this year. 
The changing to an eight-day period and the new legislation that passed a year ago requiring that middle and high schools include the topic of genocide in the curriculum encouraged the school to pilot this course. 
"There was a confluence of events that occurred such as our changing, you know, changing our schedule to an eighth period day which necessitated more, you know, happier, elective courses," Sabourin said. 
The question that this course raises is, "why does history keep repeating itself when perpetrators of genocide have been publicly condemned and receive international response."
This semester-long class is divided into six units. The first unit explores the legal definition of genocide and reviews Genocide Watch founder and research professor Gregory Stanton's framework of the 10 stages of genocide. 
The second unit focuses on the Holocaust. More time is spent on this topic than other instances because it is an example of genocide that the students should be familiar with. 
Units 3 and 4 cover the Armenian and Rwandan genocides and Unit 5 looks at the police and international response. Finally, in Unit 6, students work on an independent project. 
During this project, students get to chose from a list of genocide events that go back 500 years and, using the information from the course, present why they think that event falls in the realm of the legal definition of genocide. 
This is a heavy topic that will have to be approached by the student in an unbiased and mature manner. This course would be taken by high school juniors and seniors. 
Brandon worked with Smith to discuss the course and create the list, which is likely to grow.
"We had the equity audit done and it was identified as a focus area students are provided with opportunities to think critically about bias, power and privilege, and consider diverse perspectives, and develop leadership skills,'' one subcommittee member said. 
Although this is a "heavy" topic and there is a plan through the district to address the results of the audit, the members agreed that it is an important topic that will provide the opportunity for students to critically think about things that happened in the past and what could happen in the future.
The committee member said she feels this course is a great addition and the fact that this is a pilot allows the schools to make adjustments to include major genocide events that have not been studied in the past or are currently happening.
"It's my understanding that this one is already in the pilot status, and that it's fantastically popular with the students, which is nice to hear, you know, at least a large group who have signed up for it. So that's wonderful," subcommittee Chair Sara Hathaway said. 
Hathaway asked if there are any provisions in place for student support if the topic does get too heavy.
Sabourin said there is a disclaimer that the students are aware of when signing up for the class but the school does have a group of "trusted counselors and school counselors" on staff. 
Another subcommittee member mentioned that it would be a good idea to look into an educator with a social emotional background who can "join forces" and the possibility of including how to regulate emotions as part of the unit. 
They also said they should be warning parents so they can also be conscious of how their child is reacting to the material so they can support and guide them through any overwhelming feelings they may be having. 
Another member of the subcommittee praised the way Brandon designed the course so that the students can demonstrate what they learned and looked forward to see the end result of the projects. 
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