A Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 co-educational independent day school in Westchester County, New York

2023-24 RCDS Research & Innovation Grant Projects Conclude

Each year, the RCDS Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning accepts proposals for student-centered projects that advance the Rye Country Day’s mission by sustaining the School’s academic excellence. In 2023-24, two project proposals received grants, and in June, these important projects concluded with presentations to colleagues, summaries of findings, and recommendations:

  • Science Success Tool Kit: Aligning the Middle, Upper and Entrance Transitions led by Michael Hirsch, Upper School Science Teacher, and Gail Sestito, Middle School Science Teacher & Grades 7-8 Dean
  • The Shift to Competency-Based Learning at RCDS led by Tatum Bell, Upper School English Teacher & Grade 9 Dean, and Jen Doran, Upper School Science Teacher & Grade 9 Dean.

Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Sestito created their “Science Success Toolkit” in response to the question How might we, the Science Department, ensure the successful transition of current Middle School students and new students to RCDS into ninth grade so that they have the Science skills necessary to succeed in Grade 9 Biology and beyond? The toolkit’s goal was to ease the transition from Middle to Upper School Science. Utilizing the toolkit in the future, faculty members and students will be able to better grasp the specific Science and Engineering Practices, as defined by the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), that are necessary for learners to thrive in their study of Science in ninth grade and beyond.

Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Sestito began their project with a holistic audit of the existing eighth- and ninth-grade Science courses, reviewing the materials and mapping them to NGSS. Then they began the project of creating a skills assessment designed for new and returning ninth graders. They also developed a ninth-grade-science resource bank for students to use to explore concepts students might need to revisit or review prior to starting ninth grade or during the year. 

During the audit, Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Sestito learned that Science courses in both Grades 8 and 9 have strong NGSS scaffolding, as well as similar goals and skills. The courses differed, however, in the ways they articulated and targeted their outcomes. This affirmed the importance of a consistent scientific lexicon for the classes, which they developed. 

Ms. Bell and Ms. Doran conducted a deep dive into what it takes to make a curricular shift towards Competency-Based Learning, a student-centered pedagogical framework that focuses on equitably supporting students toward mastery of skills that are transferable to real-world situations. Their work was integral in the School’s initial exploration into Competency-Based Learning. Key takeaways included the discovery that CBL is already underway across the School, providing enduring learning experiences for our students, and that evidence supports that CBL helps to build and deepen student understanding, collaboration, and agency. 

After their extensive research, their participation in Global Online Academy’s Learning Summit, and their leadership of a CBL Professional Learning Community (PLC) for RCDS faculty, Ms. Bell and Ms. Doran concluded that incremental shifts toward the framework will support the learner agency and individual development articulated in the Portrait of a Graduate. 

Read more about CBL in this article covering a workshop coordinated by the Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Dr. Jessica Flaxman, in collaboration with Ms. Bell and Ms. Doran. The workshop was one of two expert visits focused on CBL in 2023-24.

"These important  research projects led by RCDS teachers will help guide the School's next steps toward making student-centered, Competency-Based Learning a hallmark of RCDS's exceptional program."
– Dr. Jessica Flaxman, Dean of Faculty & Employees and Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning 



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