New Course To Bring Out Critical Thinking In Salamanca

SALAMANCA – When looking for ideas of how to improve the educational offering in schools, why not go to the people on the front lines, the ones that are with the students every day and can tell you what piques their interest? The Salamanca City School District has done that with a new English offering.

Two district special education teachers have presented and successfully proposed a new elective for junior and senior English students who meet specific criteria. This new course is one that could spark a new revolution and interest in just what it takes to make, and solve, a good mystery.

Special education teachers, Stephanie Packard and Melissa Chadwick, have devised a class that is sure to have select students asking “Whodunnit?” “Mysteries, Perception, Deception and Misconception,” the name of the new English course, will offer students a mystery genre format, giving a real-world understanding of what is going on the page, culminating in a published work from each student.

How do two special education teachers end up creating, and teaching, a class like this? The path was not an easy one, nor was it a short trip.

“It all started because, as special education teachers, we have been working with the English Department,” Chadwick said. “When the English Department was asked to come up with some electives, Mrs. (Stephanie) Packard and I put our heads together to come up with a class that would be both, challenging and fun.”

What was developed is a class that will blend some of the crime scene investigation seen on television with classic and contemporary literature. Students in the class will be able to learn a half-course credit for a semester of work in the class that was originally called “Lie to Me.” To develop that sense of reality to blend into the class, to help develop that logical and critical thinking side of life, students will be taking a field trip to the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford to use the crime scene classroom.

This classroom is a building all to itself. Students attending the college use it as a real-life simulator to learn how to properly operate in a crime scene environment. Coupled with reading classics, such as the first book to really solidify the mystery genre, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hounds of Baskersville,” to Agatha Christie and into more of a modern settings, such as those by Scott Turow.

“Our students seem to like the professional paths that they see on television with some of the crime shows out there,” district Superintendent Robert Breidenstein said. “The mix of crime scene investigation and literature is a great way for these students to learn.”

The class will be used to push the concepts of logical and critical thinking, public speaking, discussion and debate on various topics, and the ability to research for presentation. The final piece of the class will be a published, written piece that will be presented to the class in a formal setting.

The class will be open to students that are in good standing and have solid attendance records, according to Breidenstein. The offering was approved to be part of the coming year by the board of education during their May 13 meeting. Students have already been requesting participation in the class, he said, proving that the subject is one that is much in demand.

“It’s great that (the Board of Education and Administration) are asking teachers for what they are interested in teaching,” Chadwick said. “In using teacher strength and excitement, teachers and students both approach the class with excitement. Kids today need to be able to explore more areas so they can be effective adults.”