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BSD Introduces Innovative Approach to Learning

As K-12 education evolves, the Burrell School District continues to embrace innovative approaches to learning, from a state-of-the-art adventure simulation lab at Stewart Elementary and robots at Huston Middle School to game-based learning in the high school.

Even gym class is different than it was 20 years ago.

“It is so much more than just kickball,” says Dr. Matt Conner, district assistant superintendent. That’s why Burrell is in the process of a comprehensive self-assessment that will reshape the physical education curriculum over the next couple of years, likely resulting in a shift away from an emphasis on team sports toward a greater focus on individual fitness through activities like dance, weight training, and even rock-climbing.

“There is a tremendous potential for change,” Conner says.

Burrell is working with Arts Education Collaborative, a Pittsburgh organization that works to strengthen education in the region. The district is already collaborating with the organization to improve the music and arts curricula.

Dr. Sarah Tambucci, director of the Arts Education Collaborative, says that her group will spend much of the year conducting interviews with teachers and focus groups with students and parents, then present a report with recommendations in the spring. Next year, the curriculum will be written as teachers introduce new concepts. “They’ll be experimenting and discovering and learning the whole time while writing the curriculum,” Tambucci says.

Full implementation of the new curriculum will take place two years from now, with dance – also characterized by Tambucci as “creative movement” – expected to be a prominent focus in accordance with state regulations. But Tambucci explains that dance in the context of physical education isn’t necessarily what many might think.

“This is not ballroom dancing,” Tambucci says. “It’s learning about body awareness and time and place. Dancers are athletes. They have to learn basic skills, just like basketball, baseball, golf or any sport.” She says that Burrell should be commended for working to create classes that appeal to a broad range of students.

“I think it’s very exciting that the district is being so forward-thinking,” she says. “Not all kids are going to be attracted to team sports. People are beginning to see that if you’re only teaching team sports, it’d be like if having a music program and only teaching drumming.”

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