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Secondary Course Redesign

What does it look like to “Engage, Educate, and Empower Everyone” in the Ithaca City School District?

The ICSD is committed to supporting teaching and learning that engages, educates, and empowers all of its 6000+ thinkers – a mission that requires analyzing and changing systems, challenging old thinking, and investing in innovation.

One product of this commitment has been the expansion of project-based learning (PBL) throughout the district. As of the 2017-2018 school year, all ICSD students have at least one experience in PBL or case study work every year, completing projects that involve worthy questions or problems, research, field work, access to experts, and sharing their learning with authentic audiences.

Another product of this commitment has been the creation of professional development opportunities, such as Summer Lesson Design Days, in which teachers and administrators engage in innovative instructional design and work to build a culture of critique, revision, and celebration in the district. This winter, in the latest example of such efforts, the ICSD initiated a secondary course redesign series. One example is “Why Fish Matter,” a spring 2018 case study at Boynton Middle School funded by a grant from the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI).

More than 30 educators — representing DeWitt and Boynton middle schools, Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS), and Ithaca High School (IHS) — are currently participating in the first round of this series, upgrading course offerings for the district’s sixth through 12th graders.  All of the new units being developed are anchored in practices designed to incorporate PBL, culturally responsive pedagogy, Universal Design for Learning, computational thinking, and digital literacy. Examples include:

a new Math Principles of Robotics course at IHS

• seventh grade technology, family consumer science, and art courses at DeWitt that incorporate multi-week capstone projects to promote student independence, interdisciplinary thinking, and inquiry into how objects, places, and design impact lives and communities;

• a more rigorous middle school Spanish class that incorporates experiential learning, global connections, computational thinking, and culturally relevant pedagogy; and

• a project-based personal finance course at IHS that focuses on building student money management skills using real life scenarios and is supported by community business partnerships. 

The ultimate goal of the course redesign work is to create classes and units that not only meet rigorous standards, but also inspire and entice students. In the coming weeks, secondary students will begin to sign up for classes, and conversations between parents, students, counselors, and teachers are the best way to tap into rich learning opportunities for all students.

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101