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NEF Continues Funding Interdisciplinary Learning at Needham High

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) has awarded $106,742 to fund the third year of an innovative class for seniors at Needham High School (NHS). The class has been lauded by the Massachusetts Secretary of Education as “the future of what a senior year should look like…..preparing kids for college and the real world.” 

Funding of the class continues a 4-year collaborative initiative between the NEF and NHS to foster interdisciplinary learning.

With the NEF’s funding, up to 60 of next year’s high school seniors will be able to enroll in the class, called The Greater Boston Project (GBP). This course incorporates English, social studies, and math as students study specific turning points in the city’s history. Students are required to think across academic disciplines and use primary source research – perhaps creating a mathematical model of 18th century census data to better inform the literature and history they are reading. Students work in groups and independently. In the second semester, they create a community action project to address a current issue.

Last year’s students recently described the value of the GBP, speaking as college freshmen:

  • “GBP has been by far the most helpful class I’ve taken thus far to prepare for college,” one wrote back to his teachers.
  • “I strongly believe that GBP has helped me with my group skills and my public speaking skills thus far in college…. [After] completing the GBP class, I was more outspoken about my opinions (good thing) and/or knew how to communicate better with people on all sorts of levels.”
  • “I had a group presentation last week and we got a 100 because I made all the slides just like GBP taught me …. I also made my group practice, and we were the only ones in the class who got an A on presentation skills. I guess I have your class to thank for that.”

Asked recently by The Boston Globe for examples of innovation in public schools, Secretary of Education Matt Malone singled out the Greater Boston Project:  “[The students] work to solve a real-world social justice problem in Greater Boston. That’s the future of what a senior year should look like. That’s preparing kids for college and the real world.” 

Interdisciplinary studies depart from traditional teaching models that present academic subjects (English, math, science, etc) in isolated silos and emphasizes problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Thinking across disciplines is now frequently required for college-level academic work and in many professions. A 2009 accreditation report by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) noted the need for opportunities for interdisciplinary learning at NHS. The district subsequently set a goal to implement an interdisciplinary course at NHS.

The recent award of $132,742, announced at the meeting of the Needham School Committee on November 18, is the 3rd large installment of NEF funding for the Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative (ILI). It includes $106,742 for the 3rd year of the GBP course plus $26,000 to continue seeding additional interdisciplinary initiatives. Since 2012, NEF has granted a total of $390,617 for the ILI, including a competitive process to choose the project, development of the pilot course, and running and staffing the course for three years. In addition to the GBP course, the initiative has spread know-how and inspired interdisciplinary teaching throughout the district. Teachers currently are piloting units at NHS called Art in the Dark (combining world history and art) and Kinetic Robotics (combining art and robotics to create moving sculpture), and last year’s sixth graders at High Rock School participated in an interdisciplinary program for visual arts and social studies. The Da Vinci Lab, an evolving space for hands-on collaboration and creativity at NHS, also was funded earlier this year.

NEF makes such large-scale projects possible through its Collaborative Initiative, in which it works closely with the Needham Public Schools administration to fund multi-year initiatives that will have major, strategic impact on education, yet may not be possible within the district operating budget.

NEF Awards $66,813 in Fall Grants to Schools

The Needham Education Foundation has awarded 16 grants totaling $66,813 in the Fall small grants cycle. These include three multi-school grants – two for programs that will reach all elementary schools and one for the middle and high schools.

Needham students will learn from musical groups, historical reenactments, interactive anti-bullying assemblies, and even opera singers! These grants were announced at the Needham School Committee meeting on November 18.

Fall grants include funding for:

  • Cultural proficiency training for athletic coaches and student athletes at Needham High School (NHS), Pollard Middle School and High Rock School;
  • A musical presentation designed to bring energy, excitement and context to students beginning to learn Spanish;
  • Interactive assemblies that offer students the opportunity to explore their own solutions to real-life situations dealing with bullying, prejudice, and peer pressure;
  • Two “express” grants that repeat programs that have been successful at other schools: one that introduces drumming circles into classroom activities at Broadmeadow School, and another that increases cultural proficiency at Eliot School;
  • A school newspaper at Pollard;
  • Hokki stools, which will allow Eliot students to move while participating in class lessons; and
  • The purchase of a pug mill to give NHS a fully- functioning, high-production ceramic studio.

NEF Grants Reach Entire Community

NEF featured in The Needham Times:

Greater Boston Project cited as example of excellence by State Secretary of Education

State Secretary of Education, Matt Malone, cites the NEF-funded Greater Boston Project course at NHS as the future of what a senior year should look like. See the entire article in the Boston Globe: Greater Boston Project Accolades 

$50,000 Grant from the Needham Education Foundation Launches “Da Vinci Workshop” at Needham High School

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) is awarding a $50,000 grant to fund the “Da Vinci Workshop,” a lab space for hands-on learning and technological creativity at Needham High School. 

The grant honors the 25th anniversary of the NEF and continues the organization’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning.

“This workshop embodies STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) interdisciplinary learning and will serve as a space for students and teachers to innovate, collaborate, create and problem-solve – all 21st century learning goals,” said Anne Weinstein, co-chair of the NEF’s Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative. “Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we can accelerate expansion of educational opportunities that are needed by our students for real-world success.”

To create the Da Vinci Workshop, existing space will be outfitted with technology such as laptops for programming and computer aided design (CAD), a laser cutter and other modern fabrication tools and equipment, traditional hand and power tools, construction materials (sheet metal, wire, cardboard), and modular furniture so the space can be configured for multiple uses.

Initially, the space will be used for projects in existing classes and after-school clubs, independent study, and collaboration between a robotics class and a sculpture class to build kinetic sculptures. In addition to enabling expansion of existing classes and clubs, the workshop is intended to expand options and open new academic and career paths for a broad range of students.

The grant was announced at the June 17 meeting of the Needham School Committee. NHS math and computer science teacher Hans Batra is working to create the Da Vinci lab in partnership with NHS Principal Jonathan Pizzi, the school’s assistant principals, and other administrators and teachers.  

“The goal of the NEF is to foster innovation and enrichment in our schools,” said NEF co-president Jane Smalley.  “We have done that for nearly 25 years, and we think the Da Vinci lab is a perfect match with these goals.”

The NEF began in 1990, when members of the Needham High School Class of 1939 donated $3,000 to create an organization to stimulate and support innovative educational programs. The organization has since awarded nearly 500 grants totaling more than $1.9 million.

The Da Vinci Workshop proposal is a part of the Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative, a recent collaboration between NEF and Needham Public Schools. Interdisciplinary learning moves beyond the traditional teaching of academic subjects (English, math, science, etc) in isolated silos. It requires students to combine concepts from multiple academic disciplines, as is required for problem-solving in college and beyond. A 2009 accreditation report of Needham High School by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) identified the need for formalized opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.  The NEF’s interdisciplinary initiative led to a new project-based course at the High School called The Greater Boston Project, which draws upon English, math, and social studies to examine social movements throughout Boston’s history.  The course is being offered for the second year in 2014-15.

A committee for interdisciplinary initiatives (made up of school administrators, teachers, and NEF board members) recommended support for the Da Vinci Workshop and will continue to provide oversight. Preliminary outfitting of the Da Vinci Workshop is expected in the 2014-15 school year. School leaders also are pursuing other private grants and partnerships to further fund the workshop.

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