Brown Director of Science Presents at NEEEA

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.

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Bisaccio helping a student use field-based inquiry

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.

2016 Speaker Series Recap: “A Night with Clint Smith”

image5“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

2016 Speaker Series Presenter Jason Okonofua Discusses Implicit Bias in Classrooms

okonofua1Students 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

Participate in Media Literacy Week 2016 by Teaching a Lesson in Your Classroom!

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This year, the National Association for Media Literacy Education is holding the 2nd annual Media Literacy Week across the United States from October 31- November 4, 2016.
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and communicate using all forms of media. Media Literacy Week’s mission is to highlight the power of media literacy education and its essential role in education today.

Please consider joining the cause! Participation in this national effort is as simple as teaching a media literacy lesson in your classroom during the week of October 31st.

For more information, visit the Media Literacy Week website. Let the National Association for Media Literacy Education know if you are interested in joining as a teacher partner by emailing them at mlwteachers@namle.net.

Meet Professor Andrea Flores!

Andrea_FloresAndrea Flores will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Brown University starting this Fall 2016. Her research focuses on how Latino youth who participate in a college readiness program in Nashville, Tennessee conceptualize the value of higher education and civic engagement for themselves, their families, and their communities. In particular, Andrea focuses on how educational aspiration is tied to Latino youth’s senses of self and feelings of socio-civic inclusion in the United States. Andrea is also interested in the role of school-community partnerships in both facilitating persistence in school and reshaping public education. Her next project follows a group of students she previously worked with as they transition into private religious colleges.

Prior to graduate school, Andrea worked as a research assistant at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she worked on projects on youth’s online ethics and young people’s conceptions of trust. Her work at Project Zero inspired her to pursue graduate work related to adolescents and education. She received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Harvard University and her doctoral degree in anthropology at Brown University. An NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a grant from the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, and fellowships from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation have supported her research. This fall, she will teach Education 1450, The Psychology of Teaching and Learning. As the sister of two elementary school teachers, she is very excited to be teaching in the MAT program. She is looking forward to getting to know the MAT students this fall and follow their progress during the year!

Student Perspective: A Visit (and Some Inspiration) from Penny Kittle

Bridget Sheppard is a current Master of Arts in Teaching student concentrating in Secondary English Education. This semester, the English MAT classroom was visited by a very special guest speaker, Penny Kittle, an English teacher, author, and student advocate. Bridget has graciously shared with us some of her thoughts and reflections on the experience. Read her words below!


There are those books you encounter that entirely change the way you see something–those moments of discovery that shift your perspective. For me, “Book Love” by Penny Kittle was one of those transformative books. So you can imagine my excitement when Ms. Kittle, also the author of “Write Beside Them,” visited Brown to talk with current English MATs, alumni, and local teachers.

During her presentation, Ms. Kittle shared more about her teaching philosophy: she believes that English class should be more focused on students discovering a love of books and of learning. She encourages this through a curriculum that has students each semester read one whole class novel, one option for a book club with other students, and their own independent reading.

As she showed us videos of her students discussing their reading and conferencing with her about books, it was clear how impactful this approach could be. One of her students in a video interview said he had never read any books for school before, but this year had read an entire stack of them–and the best part of this fact was the pride he had in saying it. What is so inspiring about Ms. Kittle is how she cares about and listens to her students and believes that they will find the books that resonate with them–they sense this belief she has in them and this love she has for books, and eventually, they believe it, too.

These moments of her students stood out to me among the million other ideas that stayed with me after the talk. I left Ms. Kittle’s presentation with enough enthusiasm and new ideas that I wanted to burst into a classroom the next morning and start trying them out right away. I wanted to try Draftback on Google Docs, I wanted to have students create their own reading ladders, I wanted to conference with students, I wanted to build up my own classroom library, I wanted to have book talks, and I wanted to have students freewrite and edit like we did on the idea of “Being 12” (sidenote: if you haven’t seen this video on YouTube, you should watch it–right after you finish reading this).

But most of all, I left wanting to see students discover the books that they love–the books that will make them fall in love with stories the way that Harry Potter did for me and did for my friend Hannah (Ms. Kittle’s daughter, who was also at the talk), the books that will then lead them to making friends with someone equally as enthused about them (because Harry Potter is part of the foundation of my friendship with Hannah–I’m refraining now from delving into an analysis of our Houses). I left wanting to put the ideas I learned from Ms. Kittle into practice, so that my students can find the books–like “Book Love” for me–that change the way they see the world.

Penny Kittle with English MATs, alumni, and local teachers

Alumni Reunite at National Science Teachers Association Convention

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Professor Dan Bisaccio reunited with several recent Science MAT alumni at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Nashville, TN.

Pictured, Prof. Bisaccio poses with Brianna Balke (Science ’13), Warren Predizet (Science ’14), and Beth Leach-Savage (Science ’10). Other MAT alumni in attendance at the conference were Emily Berman (Science ’14) and Natalie Tarr (Science ’15).

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.