Lesson plans get inaugural boost

As Obama is sworn in, county schools will use event in civics, social studies - even math

January 18, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

While many Howard County students will be glued to classroom TVs watching the historic presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, the lessons will extend beyond civics and social studies at one school.

Students at Running Brook Elementary will be applying the event to a variety of lessons in - of all things - math.

Talk about cross curriculum.

The school's math support teacher, Heather Dyer, said she came up with the idea a week ago, and teachers and students are getting excited about the one-time melding of arithmetic and current events.

"Our kids at Running Brook love math," said Dyer, who has worked in county schools for 10 years. "I know they will enjoy it. They enjoy a different approach."

As Howard is among the school systems in the region that will be in session Tuesday, educators are looking for ways to make the most out of lessons on the historic day. Mark Stout, the coordinator of secondary social studies for Howard schools, sent a memo to teachers with resources to use to better incorporate the inauguration in their curriculum.

"We try to provide curriculum around activities like this," he said. "I'd like [teachers] to make the connections naturally."

At Running Brook, Dyer plans to use the inauguration to teach about statistics and grouping. Students will use data such as past presidents' ages and temperature of past inaugurations to determine mean, median and mode.

"It wasn't too difficult to find lessons," she said. "It's easy to think along those lines."

Some schools in the county are going to show the inauguration on a tape delay, an approach intended to prevent children from possibly being subjected to a live, on-air tragedy, school officials say. The practice originated in the aftermath of the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, which was viewed live by students across the nation. The interest of schools was heightened because New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was on the flight as part of NASA's Teacher in Space Project.

Calling the inauguration a "teachable moment," Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin has let teachers know it's appropriate to have students view the coverage - just not all four hours.

Meanwhile the school system's social studies curriculum staff has provided teachers with several suggestions and Web sites with sample instructional activities, Cousin said.

However, not all teachers will be in school to take in the inauguration coverage with their students. As of Thursday, 450 had signed up to be off that day, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. Central office professional staff has even been asked to volunteer in schools to help with the substitutions.

In addition, the school system has informed parents and students of the proper procedures for missing school to attend the inauguration. In November, Linda Wise, the system's chief academic officer, sent a letter to school administrators telling them that absences on inauguration day can be used as one of the three discretionary days available to each student.

The discretionary day will count as an excused absence if arranged with the principal in advance, Wise said.

The inauguration falls on the same day as high school midterms, which has created a bit of angst. The school system does not plan to eliminate the exam, but it will endeavor to complete it by 9:05 a.m. to allow students to watch the event.

Students who use the discretionary day will be expected to make up any missed work at the teacher's convenience by the end of the exam week, Wise said.

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