Student Perspective: English MATs attend “Educating for Change” Conference in St. Louis

This February, three current English MAT students, Victor Ha, Lucy Short, and Fritha Wright, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the Annual Educating for Change Conference, an event that focuses on social justice education in classrooms and communities. At the conference, these students had the amazing opportunity to present the results of their Teacher Research Projects, which MAT students complete during their student teaching semester as a means to explore and evaluate their own teaching practices.

Vic, Lucy, and Fritha were kind enough to share their experiences attending the conference; read their words below!


“We don’t always win, but we don’t stop fighting because we didn’t win.”
– Linda Christensen on making space for hope in the Social Justice English classroom

Fritha Wright, Victor Ha, and Lucy Short

This conference began as a dream to exchange plans, goals, and hopes for the social justice classroom. We stumbled upon the Educators for Social Justice conference, Educating for Change, while we were in between classes. Following our student-teaching semesters, we longed for the communities we’d nurtured with former students but dreamt of the curriculum we would build around our future ones.

With the combined support of the Education Department Graduate Student Conference Fund and the Brown Graduate School Graduate Student Conference Travel Fund, we ended up in St. Louis, Missouri to learn from local educators and keynote speaker, Linda Christensen. (St. Louis in February is beautiful!) After honing our Teacher Research Projects for this new audience, we felt exhilarated at the prospect of sharing the inspiring work of our students.

Vic shared his writing mini-workshops from his Race Studies unit. Researching and responding to nonfiction texts about race, students strengthened their ability to produce original analytical claims. Fritha presented her research on scaffolding literary analysis and using texts like poetry, lyrics, and music videos to engage students interests and identities and invite them to voice their unique insights and analysis. Lucy spoke with St. Louis area educators about the poetry journals her students created and how to foster expression in the ELA classroom through reading, reflection, and resistance.

As exciting as it was to share our original research with others, perhaps most meaningful of all was the opportunity to listen to, speak with, and explore alongside Linda Christensen, an educator who has devoted her life to innovating what it means to foster a simultaneously critical and hopeful classroom. In her keynote address, Christensen presented a unit on gentrification that employed student-centered inquiry to address contemporary notions of home, space, and belonging. In a workshop, Christensen engaged educators in critical discussions about how language and power shape each other. In closing, Christensen shared an incisive remark from a student about the importance of building community through honoring others’ narratives.

After the workshop, we all had the opportunity to ask Christensen questions about advice she had for us as new teachers entering the field. Her response was simple, “Be brave.” After a short but powerful weekend, we left St. Louis energized to teach expansively, think critically, and hope ardently.

Victor Ha, Brown B.A 2015, Brown English MAT 2016
Lucy Short, Brown English MAT 2016
Fritha Wright, Brown English MAT 2016

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Ansley Erickson

The Brown Department of Education hosted another installment of its Speaker Series last week, and was proud to feature Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Erickson co­-directs the collaborative and digital historical research project Educating Harlem.​ Dr. Erickson is a graduate of Brown University, class of 1995, with a B.A. in Education Studies and Political Science.

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As Dr. Erickson began her talk, she remarked how the classroom where we were assembled coincidentally held special significance for her. The lecture hall was the ​location of her first Brown University Education class, taught by the legendary education reform leader Ted Sizer, the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.  We were further honored to have the late Sizer’s wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, present in the audience for Dr. Erickson’s presentation.

American schools today are starkly segregated by race and class. After a few decades of limited attention to this problem, advocates are calling for a new era of desegregation. Dr. Erickson walked the group through her research on the history of desegregation in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the longest-­running, broadest, and most statistically successful school desegregation plans in the country, and indicated how her case study could offer important lessons, and at times cautions, for desegregation efforts going forward.

Dr. Erickson pointed out various systemic roadblocks to true integration. For example, despite the new illegality of school segregation in the 1960s, it continued to be unofficially enforced by the state due to federal suburban home financing only being available to white families. Once busing was introduced, a more genuine integration began, however this still raised the moral question of if a black student’s education was “equal” if they were systemically being told that in order to receive a quality education they must be removed from their communities.

Dr. Erickson argued that fostering equality today depends on reckoning with segregation’s deep roots, desegregation’s complex history, and considering these intricate questions.

Dan Bisaccio Presents on Next Generation Science Standards

Dan HeadshotProfessor Dan Bisaccio, Director of Science Education, presented two workshops at the Rhode Island Science Teachers Association Conference this past weekend (March 12, 2016). His topics included: Using Backwards Design to Identify Instructional Sequences that Prepare Students for NGSS Assessments and Modeling a NGSS Science Lesson using Inquiry and Engineering Practices.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for a shift in teachers’ practices in teaching and assessment of science. It is crucial for science teachers to develop the knowledge and skills in creating and implementing instructional and assessment tasks that align with the NGSS.

Student Perspective: Allie Curry on Curriculum Development

Allie CurryAllie Curry is a current Master of Arts in Teaching student concentrating in Secondary English Education. During her time student teaching at Brown Summer High School, Allie discovered a passion for the backwards-design approach to curriculum development taught by the Brown MAT Program.

Allie was kind enough to share with us some of her thoughts and reflections on this approach to teaching. Read her words below!


“I often think of K–12 curriculum as too important. In the hotly contested era of the Common Core, the American public debates whether curriculum is too important to be left to states or too important to be promoted by the federal government. In some urban school districts, curriculum is viewed as too important to be developed by teachers in the community, and so many cities are purchasing boxed curricula.

The Brown MAT program has taught me that curriculum is too important in a different sense. Beginning last summer in the first days of the program, I learned an approach to curriculum design that centers around Essential Questions—challenging, relevant, and authentic questions we ask about the world—and understandings, which, in the discipline of English at least, are rarely simple answers. With my talented teaching partner (another MAT), I developed a unit for a book we would teach to a diverse classroom of 9th through 12th graders over the course of Brown Summer High School, a free summer enrichment program for Providence-area youth.

In the afternoons, we paused our planning to take a Secondary program-wide course that has greatly influenced my teaching. Literacy Across the Curriculum challenged me to rethink my understanding of literacy and create curriculum that reflects and supports the community I teach. (I’ve thought about that class a lot in the first days of February. Curriculum—culturally relevant curriculum, that is—is too important to designate only a month of the year to the accomplishments of Black Americans.)

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I posed the question in the picture above (“Does the identity of the authors we read matter?”), as a part of a unit I designed during my student teaching semester last fall at a suburban public school south of Providence, North Kingstown High School. In my student teaching semester, I iterated and refined my curriculum design process to the point that I now feel prepared, confident, and excited to begin my first teaching job in an environment that will empower me to develop curriculum of real significance to my students and community.

The Brown MAT program will teach you to design and carry out lessons, units, and learning experiences that matter. Over the course of the program, I’ve seen many times how an Essential Questions curriculum encourages students to discover and construct knowledge in ways that will transfer to their lives beyond school. Ultimately, curriculum is too important because all students deserve access to challenging, relevant questions about the world and safe, supportive classrooms in which they can develop and express their diverse understandings.”

Science Students Attend ING Summit

Director of Science Education and Professor Dan Bisaccio, two current Master of Arts in Teaching students (Erin Capra and Kay Holland, Science MAT ’16), and an Undergraduate Teacher Education Program student (Emile Blouin, Science UTEP ’16) attended the Inspiring a New Generation (ING): A North American Summit on November 6-8, 2015. Dan Bisaccio was one of the organizers of the summit.

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Over 200 key stakeholders, many under the age of 35, gathered at the National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to design strategies to build life-long relationships with nature for current and future generations. Participants represented primarily the United States, Canada, and Mexico with several from other countries including China, Australia, Brazil, and Peru. The World Parks Congress, held in 2014 in Sydney, Australia, set the stage for the Summit by focusing a major strand on “Inspiring a New Generation”. The 2015 ING Summit built on the issues identified by the Congress and determined specific strategies to address them in North America.

The unique conference agenda was structured with brief provocations followed by facilitated whole-group discussion regarding what’s working well now; identifying gaps, successes and aspirations; brainstorming initiatives that would help the ING movement gain momentum; overcoming significant barriers to success; and identifying and paving the way for new initiatives. The resulting North American Framework for Action includes 15 initiatives that participants prioritized and committed to carry out in the next five years.

The Brandwein Institute hosted the conference in partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation. Sponsoring organizations were the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, the American Nature Study Society, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and supporting organizations included Canadian Parks Council, Children & Nature Network, Parks Canada, IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, U.S. National Park Service and The Corps Network.

The 15 initiatives will be posted on http://ingsummit.org. The results and progress of the North American Framework for Action will be reported at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September 2016 and will serve as a model for other countries.

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Luther Spoehr

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series kicked off this week, and was proud to feature Dr. Luther Spoehr, a Senior Lecturer in Education and History at Brown University, and the Director of Brown Undergraduate Studies. Spoehr’s main activities at Brown involve teaching about the history of American higher education and the history of American school reform. His First-Year Seminar, “Campus on Fire,” looks at American colleges and universities in the 1960s. Other courses include a survey of the history of American higher education, the history of intercollegiate athletics, and the history of academic freedom. Dr. Spoehr also does work on best practices in the teaching of history and frequently consults with schools and school systems that want to improve their history teaching.

This Wednesday, Dr. Spoehr delivered a presentation to the Department of Education entitled “Francis and Ira’s (Sometimes) Excellent Adventures: Wayland, Magaziner, and Curriculum Reform at Brown,” a talk outlining the research Spoehr has conducted into Brown’s curriculum journey since the University’s founding in 1764.

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Dr. Spoehr began by discussing the University’s roots as a small school of approximately 80 male students, being taught Latin and the classics by a single professor, and then touched upon the (at the time) outlandish reforms implemented by President Francis Wayland in the 1800’s, allowing for modern languages and practical skills such as agriculture, and science and chemistry applied to the arts. These reforms were considered a failure initially, supposedly attracting a lower caliber of students, but today are frequently sited as being “ahead of their time”.

Brown University’s “New Curriculum” of no required core curriculum or distribution requirements was not born until the 1960’s, when student activists led by undergraduate Ira Magaziner (whom Dr. Spoehr has had the privilege of interviewing for his research) pushed for more engaging and utilitarian courses. Elements of Magaziner’s New Curriculum exist to this day at Brown University, and current faculty in the audience remarked that it is because of the lack of requirements at Brown that they can be sure that when they walk into a classroom, their students want to be there.

“Brown Alumni Analysis” Convenes!

MAT alum Zach Edson (Elementary ’15) reached out to the MAT Program to tell us of a unique way our recent Elementary alumni are supporting each other on their new-found professional journeys.  Read his words below!

“I wanted to share with you something special that recent graduates of the Elementary MAT program have begun. In an effort to support one another professionally and strengthen our own practices, we have formed a professional development group. Our meetings are modeled after our ‘Analysis’ course, and so we are calling the group ‘Brown Alumni Analysis’.

Our first meeting was this past Thursday, and eleven Elementary MATs from ’15 and ’14 got together. We shared work from our classrooms and discussed solutions to dilemmas different teachers are facing in their early teaching experiences.

I wanted to share this because it reflects how our studies at Brown shaped our professional attitudes and gave us the resources to become the best teachers we can!”

Brown Alumni Analysis

National Science Foundation Awards a 5-Year Grant for Summer STEM!

We are very excited to announce that the National Science Foundation has awarded a 5 year grant to Professor Dan Bisaccio and his colleagues Charles Steinhorn (Vassar College), Victor Donnay (Bryn Mawr), and Maria Rivera (Barnard College) for “Summer STEM Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates (TEU) from Liberal Arts Institutions”.   The TEU program will develop and test a model program that provides undergraduate STEM majors with an immersive summer experience in secondary mathematics or science education. Over five summers, a total of 120 undergraduates (24 per year) will be recruited from a network of 60 liberal arts institutions to take part in a 6-7 week program that integrates a high quality STEM discipline specific pedagogy course with a teaching practicum. Twelve students per summer will participate in a mathematics TEU program at Brown University and 12 will participate in a science TEU program at Trinity College.

Sixty liberal arts colleges and universities have committed to join this project as institutional partners. The majority of these institutions do not currently offer discipline-specific STEM pedagogy courses in their Education programs. The TEU pedagogy course will enhance participants’ discipline specific pedagogical knowledge and skills. In the practicum, which is tightly integrated with the course, participants will create and deliver lessons of their own design to local urban secondary students in a summer enrichment program. The teaching practicum will allow participants to apply the theories and strategies they are learning in their pedagogy course directly to classroom teaching. The TEU participants will be closely supervised in their teaching by master teacher mentors.

The high school students for the Brown TEU will be drawn from the Providence area and will be taking part in Brown Summer High School (BSHS). For the Trinity TEU, students will be the entire class of rising sophomores from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA). Over the 5 years, roughly 1250 high school students will receive an enriching STEM experience through these programs. This project builds upon a highly successful TEU pilot project focused on math pedagogy held at Brown Summer High School in 2013 and 2014.

Science MAT Alumni Receive Prestigious Knowles Science Teaching Fellowships!

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Brianna Balke (MAT ’13) and Emily Berman (MAT ’14)

Over the past five years, three graduates of our MAT Secondary Science program have received the highly selective Knowles Science Teaching (KST) FellowshipsLyuda Shemyakina (MAT ’10), Brianna Balke (MAT ’13), and this year, Emily Berman (MAT ’14) have been named KST Fellows!

Selection criteria for these fellowships include strong content knowledge in the sciences, potential to develop exemplary teaching practices, and possession of the qualities of highly effective teacher leaders.

KST Fellows receive an annual stipend and are eligible for a number of grants throughout their five year fellowship, such as professional development grants (valued at up to $4,000 per year) to cover the cost of relevant activities including workshops, mentoring, practitioner inquiry, and Fellow observations. Fellows are also eligible to receive up to $1,200 per year for teaching materials, and are able to apply for leadership grants to pursue efforts that will have a positive impact on STEM education beyond their own classroom.

Balke and Berman are both science teachers in an urban charter school in Rhode Island, while Schemyakina is a science teacher in Chicago. Congratulations to these teacher leaders on their continued accomplishments!

Congratulations to MAT Science Mentor, Erin Escher, winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching!

Erin EscherMAT Science Mentor Erin Escher has been named by the White House as one of 108 recipients of the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching!  This honor is given annually to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers across the country. Winners receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, and are invited to Washington, DC for an awards ceremony, educational and celebratory events, and visits with members of the Administration.

The award is a part of President Obama’s initiative to strengthen education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in order to fully harness the promise our nation’s students. Read the official White House press release to find out more about the award and the President’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign.

Erin Escher has been teaching at Rhode Island’s Portsmouth Middle School for the past 14 years. As an eighth grade science teacher and leader of the school’s garden and hydroponics club, Erin shares his curiosity in science and enjoys playing an interactive role in his students’ discovery and generation of knowledge. He has been influential in promoting STEM at his school by leading STEM workshops and serving on the school improvement technology committee.  In his free time, Erin acts as a Mentor to Science student teachers in the Brown MAT Program.

Congratulations Erin!