Seven faculty are at the heart of TC's Harlem collaboration
Understanding the Needs of Immigrant Students
Regina Cortina, Associate Professor of Education, teaches courses in comparative and international education that emphasize the social dimensions of education, class, gender and race and focus on the critical educational issues facing Latinos in the United States. She has led creation at TC of a Faculty Working Group on Latin American and Latina/o Education and is the author of several books, including Immigrants and Schooling: Mexicans in New York (2003), and Women and Teaching: International Perspectives on the Feminization of a Profession (2006). A key focus of her research is the impact of human migration on schools in the United States, with an emphasis on creating greater understanding of the needs of immigrant students from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“In all of my work,” Cortina says, “I am strongly committed to producing a new generation of graduate students, scholars and educational leaders who can help to create effective schools for the great diversity of students seeking opportunities to learn and grow in the United States today.”
Using Hip Hop Culture to Teach
Christopher Emdin, Assistant Professor of Science Education, grew up in the 1980s during Hip Hop’s ascendance. In high school he discovered he could rap about a wide range of topics, and even began a rap career. When he became a science educator instead, he identified strongly with his young students in the Bronx and Harlem, and realized that Hip Hop offered a channel into their minds.
Emdin believes Hip-Hop has five “C’s”—content, context, cosmopolitanism, co-teaching and co-generative dialogue—applicable to science education in the urban classroom. He sees them as part of Reality Pedagogy—instruction focused on the realities of students’ lives.
Emdin got his students and their teachers at Marie Curie School in the Bronx rapping about photosynthesis. He used co-generative ciphers, the highly codified, nonverbal system rappers use when they are creating rap songs together, as a model for classroom discussion.
At Heritage High School, through TC’s Harlem Partnership, Emdin tries to “get students excited about science again, like most of them were in third and fourth grade,” and to model hands-on, engaging teaching for science teachers. Both require building trust and a sense of community. It doesn’t get more co-generative than that.
Making Math Meaningful
Alexander Karp, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, researches problem solving and teaching through problem solving. Having spent 18 years as a middle and secondary school teacher, he himself wants to solve the problem of improving mathematics teaching in New York City classrooms and making mathematics more meaningful and engaging for students.He believes his role in the Harlem Schools Partnership is to facilitate a substantial increase in teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge.
“I would like teachers to move away from a lesson model that is based on the senseless drill of one type of routine exercise, to a model based on diverse and challenging assignments.”
Using Technology to Create Authentic Learning Environments
Ellen B. Meier uses technology to help create hands-on, interactive projects that engage children in math and science principles. “Technology provides powerful new ways to think about transforming our educational environment,” says Meier, Associate Professor of Computing and Education and Co-Director of TC’s Center for Technology and School Change. “Technology can accelerate our work with urban schools in a way that puts students at the center of the learning process.”
Meier developed a commitment to urban education as a student teacher and high school English teacher in Kansas City. “There is so much work to be done,” she says, especially in under-funded schools that lack technological resources. Meier advocates the use of technology that she believes will transform the teaching and learning process to be much more interactive, collaborative and dynamic.
“I’m not interested in ‘technologizing’ the status quo, but in using technology to create learning environments that allow students to explore content in authentic and interesting ways.”
For the Love of Science
Felicia Moore Mensah
Felicia Moore Mensah grew up running through corn fields in North Carolina, so it might seem odd that her focus is promoting science education for students in the nation’s biggest city. But Moore Mensah has “always enjoyed wondering and thinking about the world, even as a young girl, before I knew what science was.” Her interest in science was also fueled by a desire to become a physician. “My mom was sick when I was young, and I didn’t think the doctors were doing anything for her, so I wanted to be a doctor to help her.”
Education “opened up many opportunities” for her and motivates her work now in Harlem. Moore Mensah initiated Saturday workshops at TC for in-service teachers from Harlem Partnership schools to improve their knowledge of science and teaching skills. Her pre-service students participate in the Partnership, working with the Harlem teachers to plan and teach lessons aligned with state science standards and based on classroom observations and student interviews.
“Children within our partner schools deserve a quality education,” Moore Mensah writes. “Science education promotes their learning and development.”
“There’s Got to be a Better Way”
As an undergraduate physics major, Ann Rivet, Assistant Professor of Science Education, looked at the back of her quantum physics professor’s head as he wrote long equations on the blackboard, and thought, there’s got to be a better way to learn this.
As a doctoral student doing research in Detroit public schools, Rivet grew even more interested in better engaging middle-school students in science literacy.
Now, Rivet is Co-Director of TC’s Urban Science Education Center, which focuses on equity and accessibility for economically disadvantaged students. Through the Harlem Schools Partnership she directs TC students working with science teachers in two middle schools to gain a clear picture of how to improve curriculum and teaching strategies.
It’s a challenge for teachers to make room in their already packed schedules for new approaches, but Rivet says student performance at the Partnership schools is already showing signs of improvement. “Students are engaged and learning science so that they actually understand it. Eventually, this will be reflected in higher achievement and students who are better prepared for future science learning.”
Math Isn’t Just Something You Do in Class
As a high school student in Atlanta, Erica Walker, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Education, was very interested in mathematics. “I remember working with my friends and solving problems together, in and out of school,” she says.
With the Harlem Schools Partnership, she says, “I want to ensure that high school students have opportunities to do mathematics in this way also—to know that mathematics is not just something you do in class, and that you don’t have to always rely on an adult to do mathematical things. Because having these kinds of experiences—coupled with some great teachers—was powerful for me.” When she became a high school math teacher in DeKalb County, Georgia, Walker strove to help students develop confidence in their mathematics abilities and learn as much mathematics as possible. At one point, she established a peer tutoring program. “As a teacher, it was very beneficial for me to hear how kids talked about mathematics and explained concepts to each other. Some of their explanations and analogies showed up in my own lessons, and I would be sure to ‘cite’ the students when I used their examples. They loved this!
“So this notion of working with teachers to try to create mathematics communities in which students are highly engaged and are leaders, too, is really important to me. These experiences continue to inspire my work as a researcher and educator.”
Published Thursday, May. 27, 2010