On May 16, 2018, graduate students, faculty, staff, mentors, family, friends, and members of the public gathered to view the culmination of the year-long experience of Brown Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP) student projects. Director of Teacher Education Diane Silva Pimentel welcomed everyone and explained the format of the Teacher Research Projects (TRPs), while MAT alumna Darline Berrios delivered the keynote speech. After a brief reception, MAT and UTEP students launched into their presentations using a mixture of posterboards, video, and handouts. We captured some photos throughout the evening of the welcome, keynote, and the various presentations of our Brown MAT and UTEP students.
Meet Diane Silva Pimentel
Following the June retirement of Dan Bisaccio, Diane Silva Pimentel began her new position as director of teacher education and associate professor of the practice in the Brown University Department of Education. We’d like to introduce our students, faculty, staff and community to this special person.
Diane on Attending Brown as a First-Generation Student
Years ago, Diane had applied to Brown facetiously, knowing her immigrant family wouldn’t be able to afford for her to attend. After being encouraged by a friend to apply, Diane wanted to know whether she was worthy of being admitted – and she was. “Brown was very good to me,” Diane says now. “The university opened many worlds for me, many opportunities.”
Diane had grown up as a traditional Portuguese girl with Portuguese friends and a social life centered around Portuguese events. At Brown, she learned about other cultures and ways of thinking. She dubbed Brown her “door to science,” crediting the university with allowing her to see herself as a scientist for the first time. Although she originally planned on studying math, her Brown biology instructor, Ken Miller, was “phenomenal” and expanded Diane’s interests in new directions. She had thought at some point that she may want to study cancer but didn’t think that career path could be attainable; Dr. Miller’s course showed her she could do this.
Now, after 20 years of teaching, Diane has returned to Brown as an associate professor and teacher education director. She credits Brown for allowing her to maintain her link to the local community she loves, and she feels indebted to Brown for the rest of her life for providing her with opportunities to succeed. Diane had been the first generation and first person in her family to attend college – and she now holds a Ph.D. She has great respect for Brown’s mission and is proud to be part of that mission.
Diane on Teaching Continue reading
In June 2017, the Brown Education Department underwent a major change: Daniel Bisaccio retired from his position as director of Brown Education Department’s science education and as director of teacher education/graduate studies.
In addition to well-wishers from various departments at Brown, Dan’s wife Mame and daughter Kerry (who flew in to surprise her father) were able to attend our farewell lunch for Dan, which consisted of smiles, hugs, and a few tears.
Dan began his career more than 40 years ago, when he taught science with the Upward Bound Akwasasne/Mohawk community in upstate New York, and ended up at Brown University nine years ago, where Dan took pride every day in creating tomorrow’s teacher leaders by building a community of compassionate educators with his colleagues in the Brown MAT program. Dan has touched countless lives throughout the decades he devoted to both classroom and environmental education. Dan spoke of how proud he was of his students and graduates over the years, and colleagues took turns at the lectern to speak of Dan’s passion for teaching, passion for learning, passion for the natural world, and passion for sharing.
After leading a toast to Dan’s retirement, Chair Wong presented Dan with a framed photo of the Barus Building signed by everyone in the department, and several members of the department noted how much they’ll miss the view of Dan peacefully smoking his pipe outside of the building during the academic year.
Although retired from teaching and administering in our department, Dan is continuing to work on a grant for math education as an adjunct assistant professor for research at Brown, and he also has plans to travel. Everyone at the Brown Education Department wishes him a happy retirement – while knowing that Dan will continue to cultivate opportunities for learning and sharing his passion for science, math, and the practice of education.
On May 17, 2017, Brown MAT students gathered at The Wheeler School in Providence to present their year-long teacher research projects. Director of Teacher Education Daniel Bisaccio welcomed everyone to the conference.
Dulari Tahbildar (Brown ’00), executive director of Breakthrough Providence whose works centers on educational equity and social justice, provided the keynote address. Dulari challenged the MAT students by participating in an exercise that encouraged them to reflect on their own teaching experiences and what they hope to do and be in the future classroom.
After a brief reception for students, faculty, mentors, and friends, 39 MAT students presented their projects during three 30-minute sessions. Visitors ambled from room to room to view presentations on computers and on posterboards, some with visual aids ranging from completed classroom assignments to student poems to taxonomy.
Read on to see candid conference photos of some of the presenters and their projects: Continue reading
Brown MAT Science Educator Director Dan Bisaccio will be presiding at the Brandwein Lecture at NSTA / LA 2017 on Saturday, April 1, from 11:00 a.m.-noon in Petree Hall C, Los Angeles Convention Center and has invited environmental author Emma Marris to be NSTA’s 2017 Brandwein Lecturer, presenting “Nearby Wilderness, Novel Ecosystems, and Connecting to Nature.” Please join us!
Emma Marris will talk about how nearby nature and overlooked wild corners in urban and suburban spaces can be used to connect students to nature. Weedy patches can be hotspots of diversity and overgrown fields are rich with data about how nature will adapt to a changing climate and the pervasive influence of humankind. Marris will make the case that thinking of nature as only large parks or protected areas far away contributes to alienation from nature and leaves out students who cannot afford to visit national parks or buy expensive gear. A recent study that showed more UK students could recognize Pokemon species than a sparrow provoked widespread horror, but don’t forget that sparrows are the ultimate urban bird.
See Emma’s TED Talk, “Nature Is Everywhere; We Just Need to Learn to See It” here.
Emma Marris has written for many magazines and newspapers, including National Geographic, Discover, the New York Times and Slate. She has a Master’s in Science Writing from Johns Hopkins University and worked for many years as a reporter for the journal Nature. In 2011, she published her first book, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. In 2016, she gave at TED talk about seeing the hidden nature that surrounds us and won a National Association of Science Writer’s “Science in Society” award for a commentary in Orion about our responsibility to save species—even at the cost of wildness. She grew up in Seattle, Washington, and lives with her husband and two children in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Don’t miss our environmental leadership conference next Monday from 6-8 p.m.!
Featuring keynote speaker Cheryl Charles (see her Ted Talk here) and former Children and Nature Network president/CEO, and Rutgers Cooperative Extension 4-H Senior Program Coordinator David Foord, who will present his video, “Inspiring a New Generation: The Pathway to Nature for All.” Free to attend; register here!
On Nov. 10, 2016, dozens of Brown students, faculty and staff gathered in the Barus Building to hear Hilary Levey Friedman, Visiting Assistant Professor in American Studies at Brown University, present “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture” in the fourth installment of the Brown Education Department Fall 2016 Speaker Series.
Dr. Levey Friedman, whose presentation shared the title of a book she authored a book, has done extensive research on competitiveness among American children. She noted that in 1980, children had a roughly 90% likelihood of earning the same salary as their parents. By 2010, that number had plummeted to just 50%. People are responding pathologically to a fear of inequality, worried that their children won’t be as successful as they were. Thus, Levey Friedman has studied how “winning” has become central to many American children’s lives.
All of her data, Levey Friedman explained, is on elementary school children in the 5th grade or younger, and all on organized sports and activities run by adults. On a spectrum between “just for fun” and “training for the Olympics,” the groups in her data fell very slightly to the right of center; the parents didn’t want their kids to be professional players, but they did want them to succeed and win. Everyone was already involved in the activities when Levey Friedman began her field work.
In 2013, 7.7 million U.S. children were on high school sports teams. In soccer alone, there were 3 million kids between the ages of 5 and 19. Sports have become a part of middle class and upper middle class culture. 100 years ago, competitive sports would have been considered a staple of poor and immigrant families, while wealthier American children practiced non-competitive sports and activities such as dance and music.
Mandatory schooling laws during the 19th century planted seeds of competition, Levey Friedman stated, which brought about a social shift for kids. Sports leagues evolved, eventually coming into the spotlight. By 1910, many states featured sports clubs (although many closed during or immediately after the Depression). Then the YMCA shifted to a fee-based model, which spread across the country and remains today. In 1929, Pop Warner football was founded; in 1939, Little League was founded. Just ten years later, Little Leaguers played their first World Series, which shows how quickly the movement to competitiveness happened in the U.S. By 1959, there were 5,000 sports leagues, a model which became the norm for today’s Americans.
In the 1970s, California became the base for a self-esteem movement in schools that spread across the nation over the next decade. Physical education teachers helped push organized activities out of schools, which resulted in tying sports into the private sector. Pay-to-play sports became popular. By 2005, the number of national championships had grown from 100 to 250. The ages that a player could be a champion had also lowered across the nation, creating competitiveness at younger and younger ages.
College readiness also became a factor, as the more elite sports and activities were tied into admission practices. College admissions in the U.S., Levey Friedman noted, have had an interesting history. She cited Jerome Karabel’s book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton on how “the big three” kept out undesirable students, mainly the poor and the immigrant. The “all-around man” rose in admissions interviews, and it became important to be an athlete and to belong to clubs in order to attain quality higher education.
The three activities Levey Friedman focused on represented academic activities (chess, an individual activity, mainly populated by boys); artistic activities (dance, a solo or group sport, mainly populated by boys); and athletic activities (soccer, a team sport, played equally by boys and girls).
Competitive Kid Capital – Levey Friedman collected various quotes from kids and parents about their experiences with sports and analyzed the sports’ impact. She found that sports:
- Internalize the importance of winning
- Allow kids to bounce back from a loss to win again in the future (but, Friedman noted, also represent higher stakes, as scores and stats are usually public information)
- Help kids learn how to perform in and adapt to stressful situations, and time pressure
- Allow kids to perform under the public gaze of others
Gender Scripts in Sports
When asked how they chose these activities, parents differed in what they sought for their kids. Soccer parents wanted their girls to be more assertive and aggressive; dance parents wanted their girls to be more feminine and graceful. The dance environment was kinder and more supportive, with indirect competition and relational skills. Soccer taught kids to be forceful; it discouraged “girly girls.” Women who chase balls and score on a soccer field are metaphorically being trained to chasing and scoring other things in life. Chess is similar to soccer for girls; the girls learn to be aggressive when playing.
Skills learned by kids in sports and activities translate into job acquisition skills, Levey Friedman noted. Lauren Riviera’s Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs exposes how employers draw ideas about candidates’ talents based on their activities, sports, and social status. Levey Friedman shared a slide on how the parents she studied are grooming their children. For example, 52% of children who played chess had two parents who had earned graduate degrees; only 8% of children taking dance had two parents with graduate degrees. Chess parents thought of the game as a path towards success in higher education, while dance parents thought dancing well would help their daughters attract a mate and find success in marriage. Parents were feeling stress to help their kids succeed on a potentially unequal playing field and were enrolling them in activities on a path to attaining things they felt were important to them.
The Education Department thanks Dr. Levey Friedman and all the other presenters of the Fall 2016 Speaker Series for taking the time to present their research to the Brown community.
At this year’s New England Environmental Education Alliance conference, held in Litchfield, CT from Nov. 4-6, Brown University’s Director of Science Education Dan Bisaccio presented “Mapping Nest Success in Migratory Birds” to educators from around the region. Bisaccio, who is also the director of graduate studies for Brown’s MAT program, instructed fellow educators on using field-based inquiry to visualize nest disturbance data using maps.
In Bisaccio’s hands-on field exercises, students craft artificial nests and eggs of migratory birds and investigate the impact of forest fragmentation on nesting success. Locations of the nests are then mapped using GPS and nest disturbance analyzed, and the data and process allow students to learn about global habitat connections and conservation issues for migratory birds in an exciting, interactive way. Students as researchers can then share their data with other students around the country using HabitatNet.
“Writing,” Clint Smith announced to a packed auditorium in Barus and Holley on Tuesday, Oct. 26, “is a means of wrestling with questions I don’t have answers to.” Smith – a writer, teacher, TED Talks speaker, Harvard University Ph.D. candidate, and 2014 National Poetry Slam champion – was presenting “Art and Critical Pedagogy: Using Poetry to Challenge Dominant Narratives” at the Education Department’s third Fall 2016 Speaker Series event.
Homer, Smith told the crowd, had an epic poem that was passed down from mouth to mouth. Writing only for the page is a false notion; poetry’s roots are as an oral art form. He then launched into a dynamic, thoughtful, and oftentimes hilarious presentation that had the rapt attention of more than 200 audience members, instructing his listeners on etiquette with a quick “snap during, clap after” request. During the rest of this talk, fingers snapped around the room at various times when his poems and statements resonated with audience members, quiet in sound but thunderous in reaction to and appreciation of his words.
Smith, who was born and raised in New Orleans, gave some background information on his relationships with his parents (urging audience members, when he spoke of his father’s experience obtaining an organ transplant, to sign up to be organ donors to help offset the transplant waiting lists that tend to be longer for people of color and people in poverty). Smith learned from his father at an early age – too early to fully understand at the time – that the implications of his decisions might result in different outcomes than for Smith’s non-black friends. Smith referred to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot dead by police two years ago for holding a toy gun. Smith’s father’s fears had been real. When he recited one of his poems following that introduction, two lines in particular drove home what Clint had just spoken of: “Someone’s idea of implicit bias might be the reason you might not wake up in the morning,” and “I want to live in a world where my son isn’t presumed guilty from the moment he is born.”
Smith thanked Christina Villarreal, Brown’s director of secondary history education, for helping to reconceptualize the notion of history. History, Smith noted, doesn’t always address what isn’t convenient to the narrative. Thomas Jefferson is celebrated as a president and historical figure, but many stories ignore the fact that he was a racist and a slaveholder. Jefferson didn’t try to hide this but in fact spoke his thoughts openly and published them. In his mind, black people didn’t have the capacity to create art; if they did put words on a page, it couldn’t be called poetry. Blacks, Jefferson believed, didn’t have the capacity to love. The dominant American narrative, Smith explained, was a state-sanctioned policy to marginalize and dehumanize a race. When we think of the civil rights movement, we think of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a celebrated figure – but at the time, ⅔ of Americans disapproved of King, just as many Americans today mischaracterize or judge the Black People Matter movement. In our collective American social memory, we don’t talk about these things. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal is celebrated in history books, but the New Deal was written to deny black citizens access to the very benefits it promised Americans – Social Security, GI bill, mortgages, minimum wage, and more. The New Deal may have created the middle class, but it skipped a huge section of the country, and politicians legally enacted law barring blacks from social benefits – yet people today point fingers at black citizens, asking why blacks are more likely to live in poverty than others.
Look at our history, Smith implored. The first blacks were brought to America as slaves in 1619. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t pass until 1863. Voting and civil rights weren’t passed until 1964 and 1965 – only 50 years ago – and there are still issues of inequality today. America, Smith stressed, enjoyed 350 years of history in which it was legal to dehumanize blacks. We need to talk about this in our classrooms, and most of us don’t. In response to that propagation of myth, Clint read from his poem, “Letter to Five of the Eight Presidents Who Owned Slaves While in Office.” When talking about getting both sides of the story, the poem stated, “At some point, you have to question who the writer is.”
We live in a world, Smith said, where blacks can be stopped, can be frisked, can have assumptions made about their personalities at first sight. There is duality in our history; Jefferson was a good president, AND he was a racist and a slave holder. Both sides exist; both sides should be acknowledged. Smith then read five poems, each one on what an inanimate object – an ocean, a cicada, a fire hydrant, a window, and a cathedral – would say to black boys. The audience was spellbound at these unusual but powerful narrative views.
Only moments later, versatile speaker Smith had the audience laughing at his descriptions of his failures as a basketball player. Smith had always been chosen among the first for teams – resulting in disaster, as described in one line from the next poem: “My jump shot be all elbow and no wrist.” Counting Descent, Smith acknowledged, was about speaking the truth – the whole truth.
Mike Brown was killed the same week that Smith started grad school, and Smith has been writing the book these past two years in a post-Ferguson context. Smith wanted to humanize death of and violence toward blacks; the feelings he is grappling with are real and visceral. We’re not defined, Smith stated, by the things that kill us or seek to render us obsolete. There is a U.S. history of violence against blacks, but it is also amazing how fundamental black culture is to U.S. history. Blacks helped build this country, and they are woven into its fabric.
My life has not been entirely defined by violence and fear, Smith continued. He has attempted to capture black resilience and joy amid the greater, sadder black American landscape. Both sides are important to understanding the black experience. He told of the sweetness (and, to his young self, embarrassment) of his parents dancing together in the kitchen to “Before I Let You Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze, which later inspired him to capture that moment in a poem he read to the audience.
The writer/poet label, Smith restated, doesn’t necessitate answers; it’s a means of wrestling with questions. If we ask questions we already have the answers to, we negate that process. We need to rethink concepts and re-imagine who police are and what they do. Look at us now, Smith, who works with prisoners, asked the audience. We are a society that puts people into cages for life. Remember how the French used to cut off heads with a guillotine? For us that’s barbaric; for them it was a normal way of life. Someday we’ll look back at life imprisonment with similar eyes to looking at guillotines. We have 200,000 people in the United States serving life sentences in jails, and we haven’t pushed ourselves towards different solutions to our problems. Don’t just tinker, Smith appealed; tackle.
Smith’s last poem was about the trauma caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the audience reacted with enthusiastic snaps at the haunting line, “Can you claim something as your own if you don’t remember how you found it?”
In response to Smith’s invitation for questions, someone asked about the influence of his father. Smith cautioned teachers to be careful about filling a parent role for students. Many of the prisoners he’d worked with hadn’t had biological fathers, and Smith recognized that and was careful not to position himself as anything but a peer; anything else would be disingenuous. Look at the Moynihan report, Smith said; black family structure is being blamed for problems in black society. Racism is the reason for those problems, not female heads of households or non-nuclear families. Neither he nor anyone else should seek to fill in a family gap; instead, Smith engages with prisoners and learns from them. The classroom isn’t one-way, Smith told the audience full of future teacher leaders. Students bring ideas and knowledge into classrooms, too; it can and should be a shared collective experience. Don’t set out to teach; set out to engage.
Another question addressed the balance between criticism and exposure of history. Smith acknowledged that it’s a difficult balance; we want to show students that the world sees blacks as less than human but let them know they’re not responsible. Students need to be shown both sides: the world is set up for them to fail, but they have the agency to change things. Different decisions can be made. They can wield their power; they can build a different world.
What’s the difference for you, another student asked, between writing for the page versus the stage? Also, regarding Smith’s Ph.D. research at Harvard, how does Smith use poetry with prisoners?
Writing is a process and a practice, Smith responded. Several times, he has made himself do a “30 for 30,” writing a poem every single day for a month. Just as with sports, you have to practice to write; in his case, he had to write 25 bad poems in order to write 5 good ones. You have to do the work to create the work, he advised the audience.
As for the written page, Smith cautioned against positioning the page as more valuable than the stage. They are different genres that feed in different ways, and appearing in a reputable publication isn’t necessarily a bigger indication of success than winning a poetry slam. Smith did acknowledge that he wrote for the page in the case of Counting Descent to break out of a competitive context. He’d been writing poems to fit the 2.5-minute frame for slams, and he wanted to experiment with other lengths, which led to other material and expressions.
In Smith’s Ph.D. program at Harvard, there is a relationship between the social scientist and the artist. Both are part of him. What he internalizes academically often surfaces artistically, and writing is a form of expressing both personal and political values. His next book, Smith revealed, will focus on the relationship between education and incarceration.
In response to a question about using pedagogy to become a better person and the relationship between art and ethics, Smith said he entered grad school committed to avoiding inaccessibility; he’d been seeking the intellectual toolkit to name and understand things. He has the language to argue against misconceptions and misnomers and to challenge ideas like that of “black-on-black crime.” Smith enjoys his work in the prisons because he had wanted to be in a space that reminds him of why he came to this field of study. He doesn’t want to just read books; he wants to ground the knowledge he’s seeking and stay in touch with the reasons why he’s there.
In response to the final question – about whether he writes to challenge and assert himself – Smith stated that people write about poverty to legitimize themselves and their social institutions. Those people use narratives to benefit themselves without helping the people to whom the stories belong. It’s important to illuminate those people. It’s important to think about and account for the fact that this is people’s lives and not just a vehicle for people to gain tenure or publications or a name for themselves.
Smith thanked the crowd for coming and for asking great questions, and he offered to sign copies of Counting Descent. Thrilled by Smith’s performance, autograph seekers filled the hallway.
Students lined the seats, the walls, and even the floors of the Dewey Conference Room of the Barus Building on Tuesday, Oct. 18 to hear Stanford University Assistant Professor in Psychology Jason Okonofua present, “”When Bias and Threat Persistently Interact: A Holistic Approach to Understand the Lingering Effects of Stereotypes.”
Dr. Okonofua began with a live demonstration of implicit bias, asking the audience to guess how many triangles were in a figure he displayed. Audience answers varied from three to eight, but the real answer was zero. As the sides of the triangles were incomplete and unconnected, they were not making complete shapes. Our brains, Okonofua explained, are wired to take in information and fill in missing gaps. We humans tend to categorize, to favor our own, and to make judgments without having complete information. Continue reading