The Classrooms Runneth Over
With 25 different sessions running throughout the day, Academic Festival offered something for everyone.
Much of the programming was arts-related, focusing on:
Cross-Fertilizing the Disciplines
At a session titled “STEAM and the Dissolving of Boundaries,” Professor of Art Education Judy Burton led a discussion of ways in which the arts can promote interdisciplinary learning, critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving.
“We don’t look at the arts as something you are ‘good at,’” Burton said, “but as disciplines of the mind, as ways of making the world comprehensible to ourselves.”
Shyla Rao (Ed.D. ’12), Graduate Director of the M.A. Program in Teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), presented a project in which second-graders integrated the arts into a science unit on simple machines. The children were encouraged to develop empathy by designing machines that could address real-life problems at their school. Doctoral student Ashley Mask shared a unit in which students investigated art objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to learn more about the cross-cultural connections made by ancient traders on the Silk Road. Sean Justice (Ed.D.C.T. ’15) emphasized the importance of students working with physical materials in the digital age. “When our hands are on, our minds are in,” said Justice. As an example of a project that integrated a traditional art (knitting) with a traditional mathematical code, he shared a picture of a wool scarf in which the phrase “you’ll never brave the cold alone” was knitted directly into the pattern in Morse Code.
Burton also showed a video re-creating a project she had once facilitated with eighth grade students in the UK. The collaborative project, led by an English and Art teacher, encouraged students to think creatively about the Pythagorean theorem.
“As teachers, we felt we’d been taught by the kids,” Burton recalled. “It was one of the most remarkable learning experiences I’ve ever had.”
– Ellen Livingston
Thinking On Their Feet
“We are all born to move – movement unlocks the body and lightens the spirit,” says veteran news anchor Paula Zahn, who narrates the Emmy-nominated documentary “P.S. Dance,” coproduced by Teachers College alumna Jody Gottfried Arnhold.
Yet few American public schools offer dance as part of their arts programming.
PS Dance, which follows dance teachers and students at five New York City public schools, is an inspiring look at what the medium can do for young people from kindergarten through high school. As one youngster puts it, “it’s like having recess – only it’s dance,” while her teacher spoke of bringing children out of their shells, creating an organized atmosphere with “ritualized activity” and – through approaches such as a dance enactment of Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad – creating “as a core connection to other disciplines.”
The film, originally screened on PBS television, aired at Academic Festival, followed by a panel discussion featuring Arnhold (M.A. ’73), director Nel Shelby, and three women who appear in the film: dance education consultant Joan Finkelstein, dance teacher Patricia Dye of Science Skills Center High School in Brooklyn, and Ani Udovicki (M.A. ’00), a dance teacher at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens.
“Dance education is an incredible field that has so much to offer,” says Arnhold, a former public school dance teacher who founded the Dance Education Lab at New York City's 92nd Street Y and chairs both the Y's Dance Center Task Force and the Board of Ballet Hispanico. “We say this is a movement to ensure dance education for every child. The teachers in the film represent 450 certified dance educators in New York City – and that’s not enough.”
– Joe Levine
Making the Case for the So-Called Soft Skills
At a session titled “The Intersection Between Social and Emotional Learning and STEAM,” two TC graduates described the complex process of developing an innovative STEAM program at an elite school in Brazil.
Cristiana Assumpcao (Ed.D. ’02) a biology teacher at the Colegio Bandeirantes in Sao Paulo, discussed the challenge of building an active, creativity-based program in a school that has long emphasized traditional content and high performance on standardized tests.
“We’ve been teaching children to sit down and be passive and listen to what I’m saying,” Assumpcao said. “And now suddenly I’m saying you’re going to get up and be creative. We have to teach them to do that.”
Leticia Guimaraes Lyle (M.A. ’11), Co-founder of Mindset Education, who also worked on the project, agreed that the new emphasis on social and emotional skills, working collaboratively, developing flexibility, curiosity and other “soft skills” was an ongoing challenge – particularly for teachers, for whom STEAM represents a fundamental pedagogical shift.
“These are scientists,” she said. “I can’t just go to them and say collaboration is good for the soul. I have to have evidence.”
Assumpcao and Guimaraes were joined by two TC faculty members, Henry Levin and Felicia Mensah, who made broader arguments for expanding the arts in education.
Levin, William H. Kilpatrick Professor of Economics Education, said that the American educational system has focused far too narrowly on cognitive development to the neglect of inter-personal and intra-personal development, which are also critical to human growth.
The current focus on standardized testing has reinforced this narrow focus, he said, leading us to “very constrained ways of measuring proficiency in a very narrow range of subjects.”
“Can arts help to integrate STEM cognitive knowledge into a richer and more productive educational experience? The answer is a simple ‘yes,’” Levin said.
Mensah, Professor of Science & Education and Program Coordinator of the Science Education Program, presented several models that can bring new creativity and innovation into more traditional STEM programs. In one activity, for example, students went beyond the traditional study of genetics and created drawings of the babies that might result from a particular genetic makeup.
“How can we do a lab report differently? It’s an example of re-imagining the things we do in science,” she said.
– Ellen Livingston
Other sessions ranged further afield, spanning the breadth of TC’s programs and centers:
Advice from Inside the Beltway
In a panel titled “Notes from the Hill,” two Beltway insiders, David Johns (M.A. ’06) and MaryEllen McGuire (Ph.D. 02), discussed what it takes to succeed in the political culture of Washington, D.C. They were joined by Sharon Lynn Kagan (Ed.D. ’79), Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families; and Amy Stuart Wells (Ph.D. ’91), Professor of Sociology and Education. Aaron Pallas, Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology and Education, served as moderator.
Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and a former senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), said he arrived at TC wanting to be an “unapologetic advocate for students who came from a place like I did, which was Englewood, California. I came with an unflinching belief that we have to… argue for kids who don’t yet feel they can argue for themselves.”
Johns said his ability to advocate for children based on evidence and data – a skill he honed at TC -- has strengthened his effectiveness in driving White House education policy.
McGuire is Founding President of the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI), the leading source of professional development for Congressional staff who work on higher education issues. She previously served on the White House Domestic Policy Council as President Obama’s senior advisor for education.
“TC made me a more critical thinker,” McGuire said. “It made me question where data comes from” as well as "a better writer and a better thinker,” which helped her find her voice in DC.
– Patricia Lamiell
Championing Community Colleges
The need to promote investment in and develop innovative programs at community colleges was the focus of a session that included presentations from Thomas Bailey, Director of TC’s Community College Research Center, Liz Willen, editor of The Hechinger Report, and Karen Dubinsky, President of Marketing Insights at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. Bailey emphasized that while community colleges have been successful at providing access to higher education to a diverse group of students, investment in these institutions has not kept pace with their needs and, at current levels, puts their success in jeopardy. Willen faulted the mainstream media for too often focusing on elite colleges and rarely telling the important story of community colleges, which account for more than half the students who attend institutions of higher education in the United States. Dubinsky described a range of successful community partnerships that can help local businesses become more actively involved with community colleges, at the same time proving entry for their students to build successful careers with local businesses and institutions.
– Ellen Livingston
Women in the Military
In a compelling pairing of generations, retired Air Force Major USAF General Irene Trowell-Harris was interviewed by TC psychology doctoral student Meghan Mobbs, a former U.S. Army captain who is an Afghanistan veteran and West Point graduate.
Mobbs said that Trowell-Harris, an African American who served for 38 years in the Air Force and the Air National Guard before being named by the White House to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans, has “accomplished more than most of us will accomplish in our dreams.”
In answer to the question, “What inspired you to join the armed forces?” Trowell-Harris said that two of her uncles who enlisted in the Army during World War II had always talked about “serving our country.” Yet she actually made up her mind one day during the 1950s when she was picking cotton and a plane flew overhead. “I said, ‘One day I’m going to be up there.’” In those days, a woman joining the Air National Guard had to be a nurse, and after Trowell-Harris mentioned to an elder in her church that she lacked the $60 to pay for nursing school, her congregation raised $61 in nickels, dimes and quarters.
Later on, she spent hours in a pool at the local Y because the service required airborne nurses to be expert swimmers in order to protect their patients in the event of a crash.
As one of just two African-American women in a 50-woman nursing class, Trowell-Harris endured a segregated education – “but my family had no health insurance and no indoor plumbing, so I just focused on doing well.” She did, becoming the first American-American woman in the history of the National Guard to be promoted Brigadier General.
Her advice to women in the service today? Find a good mentor; use failure as a learning opportunity; and work through established channels to achieve change.
“The military is very systematized, but if you learn the system you can control it,” she said. “We need young people going in with their ideas for improvement.”
– Joe Levine
Too Young to Be Old
When Nancy Schlossberg received TC’s Distinguished Alumni Award at Academic Festival, she described her time at the College as her “intellectual awakening” – a process that included some rude shocks, such as nearly losing her dissertation on a New York City bus.
Schlossberg’s message at a session later that afternoon was that most life transitions are similarly enriching and bumpy. Known for fashioning a second career as America’s retirement guru in the decades since her own retirement from teaching at the University of Maryland, Schlossberg shared her 4S’s -- “self, situation, support and strategies”-- principles for successful transition that she says can be applied to new relationships, environments or any next milestone in life.
Describing herself as “too young to be old,” Schlossberg said that the metaphor she uses to describe transitions is the kaleidoscope. “Today is not forever – it will change and evolve,” she said. “Use it as a chance for self-reflection and to ask the big questions.” – Mindy Liss
Click here to see video of these and other sessions from Academic Festival 2016.
Published Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016