By Barry Warner
“The focus of K-12 education in the district is to give our students opportunities to apply the content in STEM Labs, competitive robotics and the Outdoor Education Center (OEC), rather than sit behind desks and read books in their classrooms. Learning spaces are being designed for kids to work together, to think critically and problem solve. We’re completing upgrades to the high school cafeteria and media center with a focus on creating 21st century innovative teaching and learning environments. The periods at the high school will be lengthened to 55 minutes to accommodate the new learning strategies. The ‘global learning commons’ are spaces where active discussion is possible. The commons will be furnished with modular tables and chairs, so students can participate in groups. We’re aligning the high school’s schedule of start and end times to reflect research-based findings that positively affect students’ health, safety and learning. Teenagers need to sleep later, so the school day will start at 8:30 a.m. The National School Boards Association awarded the district its Magna Award for our innovative programs at the OEC,” Nanuet School Superintendent Dr. Mark McNeill told the Rockland County Times.
Deputy Superintendent Meredith Fox described the learning objectives of the OEC. Outdoor education is a means of curriculum extension that offers opportunities to explore science, nutrition, sustainability, organic farming and many other disciplines. Students explore units such as seed germination, plant parts, life cycles, water cycles plus weather and climate. After crops are harvested from the garden, students can prepare fresh meals. The purpose of a greenhouse is securing a reasonable amount of heat and water vapor so that heat and humidity are maintained in order to grow crops year round. It also shields crops from excess cold or heat and unwanted pests. A ‘real-world problem’ was student investigation of the visitation of geese to the large mowed OEC area. It was determined that the geese like visiting mowed areas of short grass because their prey like longer grass areas where they could hide. Other activities included a seventh grade social studies civil war reenactment lesson that included handling muskets and constructing tents, mindfulness and setting up a farmers’ market for the parents and the community. Sustainability is the process of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources so that the long-term ecological balance is supported.
Assistant Superintendent Kevin McCahill referred to alternative learning environments where lessons can be duck-tailed into each other, so that 3-4 classes can be working on a common unit. Learning centers are commonly seen in elementary classrooms. Recently, middle school and high school teachers have found that that in this center-based approach, students take an active role in their learning. Characteristics of innovative learning centers include:
- Flexible spaces that can be easily be adjusted to support the learning activities
- Allow for movement
- Allow for various groupings
- Allow for hands-on exploring, making and building to apply learning
- Allow for curriculum integration, including the arts
- Support social interaction and development
- Support cognitive skills and development.
- Support the integration of technology and engineering strands
- Provide opportunities for students to learn through examples
Google Classroom, used by Nanuet teachers, is a free web service developed by Google for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way. The primary purpose of this technology is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. Google Classroom combines Google Drive for assignment creation and distribution, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides for writing, Gmail for communication and Google Calendar for scheduling.
The importance of college and career readiness (CCR) for Nanuet High School seniors is crucial. Students eventually entering the workforce are discovering that they need critical knowledge and skills that are used on a regular basis. They recognize that pursuing a career pathway that pays enough to support their needs and provides genuine potential for advancement depends on being able to perform the complex tasks necessary for postsecondary success.
Organic farming is used for growing crops at the OEC. This process involves using natural methods without any harmful chemicals, toxic ingredients or synthetic elements to fertilize, feed or increase growth. It relies on techniques, such as crop rotation, organic compost plus biological and agricultural pest control procedures.