Monthly Archives: April 2014

Elementary Students Host Public ‘Virtual Museum’ Opening

The third and fifth grade curators of William D'Abate Elementary School on a field trip

Across the Brown MAT programs there is much conversation about real world learning and authentic assessment. What does that look like? Two Elementary MATs worked collaboratively with their mentor teachers and fifty two students in their spring student teaching practicum at William D’Abate Elementary School to provide one example.

Liz Carr and Beau Poppen-Abajian planned a social studies unit that sought to address stereotypes and misconceptions their students had of American Indians. As part of the unit, students did a scavenger hunt of the Tomaquag Virtual Museum, hosted arts educators from the RISD Museum, an anthropologist from the Heffenreffer Museum Culture Caravan, and took field trips to the RISD Museum and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. After several months of research, analyzing artifacts and discussing primary source videos, it only made sense that all of this work would lead to having the third and fifth graders create their own virtual museum to demonstrate their learning, utilizing their growing knowledge of American Indian culture and helping to develop skills with technical writing, curation and digital technology.

Although the students were creating a virtual museum, Liz, Beau, and their mentor teachers Carmen Rodriguez (3rd grade) and Amy Lopes (5th grade), thought it was important for the museum to be exhibited publicly. The students were on board, prepared and dutifully practiced presentations, were assigned roles and responsibilities, and invited guests for the public opening of the “D’Abate Rooms 205 and 206 American Indian Virtual Museum.”

On April 11th, family members, Brown University faculty, city officials, Providence School District administrators, D’Abate students and staff, and others from the community attended the opening. Students gave presentations and toured guests through their virtual museum exhibit on laptops spread throughout the commons. After presenting to several groups, each followed by Q&A, students served refreshments and closed out the virtual museum opening, which was, by all accounts, a tremendous success. Liz, also known as Ms. Carr at D’Abate, says that several guests described the students, their presentations, and the exhibits as “very professional,” and that “the students were beaming with pride.” Now that sounds like real world learning and authentic assessment.

Visit the virtual museum here to see the important work done by the third and fifth graders. Don’t forget to leave a comment for the curators!


Spotlight on Alumni: Eric Spreng ’13


In this Spotlight on Alumni, English MAT alum Eric Spreng shares his insights for those considering the MAT program. Along with his wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), he is now based at the International School of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso. Both Allison and Eric exemplify the wealth of life experiences you’ll find across the Brown MAT cohorts.

What were you doing before the program?
Before coming to Brown, I spent three years teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts at an international school in Beijing. The professional environment at the school was supportive and collaborative, and the experience pushed me into the questions that ultimately landed me at Brown: How can I facilitate an environment that is more conducive to learning? How do I foster a sense of belonging in the individuals in a learning community? How can I better account for disparate student backgrounds? What can I do to promote human sensitivity as well as knowledge and skills?

What attracted you to Brown’s program?
I was attracted to the program’s emphasis on mentorship, reflection, and personalized feedback. The fact that the MAT year includes two practicums was important, as was the teacher research component. But most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the program is intentionally small. As the teaching placements are central to the MAT experience, I wanted a director who actually knew me personally and could advise me based on my own interests, strengths, and areas where I needed to grow.

What was the highlight of the program?
To be honest, the whole year was great. The program is well-designed to develop a strong understanding of pedagogy and to provide the chance to develop expertise in your content area as well. That said, the professional relationship that I had the chance to cultivate with my mentor teacher has proven a tremendous resource to me since completing the program.

Where did you student teach?
I student taught at Classical (a Providence public school) and had a really positive experience there.

How did the program meet your expectations?
The MAT year is intense. There is so much to learn and to process and before you know it, it is over. Since completing the experience, I have found that many of the questions that arise in my teaching practice were in some way addressed by the MAT program. One year is not long enough to answer all of these questions, but I do feel the program provided what I need in order to pursue the philosophical and pragmatic questions through further research and practice.

How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
The program provided the chance to push myself toward excellence in a close-knit, supportive community. The friendships that I was able to make with young teachers have been a tremendous professional asset to be sure, but also a source of personal joy and inspiration. Spending a year with such inspiring, brilliant people was awesome.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
I love that teaching is never boring. It is always a challenge. I love that I get to work with talented young people who have something to say, and that I can help them develop the skills to say it. And I love engaging on the big ideas that matter—both in my classroom with my students and in the faculty lounge with my colleagues.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
Do it! The Brown MAT program is well designed. It is flexible enough to provide the chance for you to pursue your own areas of interest within the field as you strive to develop the competencies that are necessary to be a great teacher.

Anything else?
As an MAT, go to lots of talks and events, and make connections beyond the department as well. As a teacher, at some point in your career, consider teaching abroad. My wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), and I are currently at the International School of Ouagadougou, and we are loving it. Our classes are full of kids who come from countries all over Africa, Europe, North America and beyond. We are learning a lot about what it means to be teachers in the 21st century, and what skills are most important for success in a more connected world.

Spotlight On Alumni: Allison Bryan ’13


From Beijing to Ireland, Secondary History MAT alum Allison Bryan taught in a variety of settings before coming to Brown. Along with her husband, Secondary English MAT alum Eric Spreng ’13, she is now based at the International School of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. In this interview, she discusses her background and her experience in the program.

What were you doing before the program?
Before the program, I had been working in education both state-side and internationally. The three years immediately before the program, my husband and I were both working at Tshinghua International School in Beijing, China. This school was a joint effort of Columbia University and Tshinghua University. The goal was to create a school that took the best of Western and Eastern education. I was teaching 6th grade social studies and language arts, and my classes had a strong emphasis on learning about the communities and the people around us, but teaching with primarily western methods. Prior to that, I was the recipient of a Fulbright grant to teach English and American studies at La Universidad Nacional de Villa Maria in Argentina. I also spent time working in after school and summer programs in Northern Ireland (working in peace-building between Catholic and Protestant youth) and in the United States (providing tutoring and enrichment classes to immigrants and refugee in the public schools).

What attracted you to Brown’s program?
My husband and I both applied to multiple schools for master’s programs. Brown was ultimately the best fit for both of us. We really liked the small size of the program, the Brown Summer High School component, and the pairing of one course-based semester with one student teaching semester. My goal coming into the program was to get more experience actually doing the work of a historian (during the academic semester) as well as build on the skills I had already been developing as a classroom teacher.

What was the highlight of the program?
There were so many! Once we were actually there, I realized how valuable the small size of the program was. I had a really close relationship with my director at the time, Brian, but also felt strongly supported by Dan and Laura (Directors of Secondary Science and English MAT programs, respectively) as well. The opportunity to work with so many master teachers during the summer program also provided a lot of exposure to new teaching methods and ideas and a chance for me to experiment with them. The semester of coursework was amazing, too. I got to dig into the work of being a historian with great professors like Dr. Remensnyder. I loved getting to work with the primary sources in the libraries at Brown, as well.

Where did you student teach?
I spent most of my student teaching semester at Paul Cuffee Middle School. The teachers there were so friendly and willing to have me in their classrooms and it also gave me the chance to see first-hand some different approaches to education, such as standards-based assessments and student-led conferences.

How did the program meet your expectations?
I firmly believe the program prepared me for the classroom. It was a great balance between theory and practice. I got acquainted with so many thinkers in the field of education, built a great network with other young and motivated teachers, stepped inside numerous classrooms at many different types of schools, and got to try out many new teaching methods. I felt so strongly supported by Brian and the other program directors, as well. It was an incredibly hard year, and I think I could literally feel myself growing from week to week. Simply put, I am a better teacher now. I have a more thorough understanding of current trends, the history of education, and many other facets of teaching.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
That is a really tough question. I love so many aspects of teaching. I love building relationships with the students and getting to know them over the course of the year(s) that I teach them. I love it when they have an “aha!” moment, and really get excited about a new idea or understanding. I also love the creativity that is inherent in teaching. Creating curriculum and planning lessons gives me the chance to really wrap my head around different ideas and issues and find exciting ways to help the students learn. For example, we’re making documentaries on the causes and effects of different types of pollution in my 7th grade social studies class. It’s been fun doing the learning myself first; I guess I am a student at heart.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
It is a really incredible program. It is, of course, important to be sure that a program is the right fit for you. Only you know that, so do your research. If you want a small program that is flexible and responsive to your needs and questions, Brown is it. The professors at Brown, inside the MAT program and in the other departments, are outstanding, the resources are excellent, and the access to so many master teachers is truly wonderful. I am so glad I chose Brown and Brown chose me. It was the most concentrated period of vocational and academic growth I think I’ve ever had, and it happened in an incredibly supportive environment.

Elementary MAT’s Classroom Hosts Governor of Rhode Island

Jasmine and Claudia with Governor Chafee

Mentor Claudia Jackvony, second grade teacher Pleasant View Elementary, and Elementary MAT Jasmine Meade, host RI Governor Lincoln Chafee in their classroom.

A current Elementary MAT, Jasmine Meade, is teaching a social studies unit on the different between cities, states and countries, in her spring student teaching placement, in a second grade classroom at Pleasant View Elementary School. What better way to bring the unit to life, she thought, than to have an expert on government come to her classroom! An email request to the Rhode Island Governor’s office resulted in Governor Lincoln Chafee visiting Jasmine and her mentor teacher Claudia’s classroom last week, speaking to students and answering questions (ranging from, “What do you do in your job?” to “What kind of car do you drive?”).

Governor Chafee is a perfect person to learn from about the various levels of government because, in addition to serving in Rhode Island’s highest office, he served on the city council for Warwick, RI, as Warwick’s mayor, and in the U.S. Senate representing Rhode Island. Governor Chafee also happens to be an alum of Rhode Island public schools and Brown University.

These aren’t the only students of Brown Elementary MATs to meet a governor this spring. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy visited Wheeler School, an independent school in Providence, RI, and spoke to all students, teachers and staff about his experience with a learning difference and took questions from students, too. One Elementary MAT is student teaching in third grade at Wheeler School, another is in fourth grade at Hamilton, the school within Wheeler that provides specialized instruction for students with learning differences.

We love the real world connections that are engaging students out there in the field!

Governor Chafee and students

Governor Chafee poses for pictures with second grade students after answering students’ questions. These kids know how to present themselves when meeting the governor!

Spotlight on Alumni: Josh Johnston ’10


In this interview, Elementary MAT alum Josh Johnston, now teaching at the Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls, RI, describes how the MAT cohort, MAT faculty, and his mentor teachers supported, and continue to inform, his position as a teacher and learner. Read to the bottom for a program perk!

Why Brown?
I was immediately attracted to the pragmatic benefits. Leaving with a Master’s and a teaching certificate in just one year was exciting because I was looking forward to getting into the work of running a classroom.  When I visited, though, I was floored by the academic rigor of the environment.  I’d only ever worked in a very practical, functional public school, so to spend time with people who were genuinely thoughtful about best practices in education, and their underlying pedagogy, was an awakening for me.

What was the highlight of the program?
There isn’t a doubt in my mind: it was the people. The directors of my program, Jeanette Epstein and Carla Shalaby, shaped the way I think. Carla taught me to look at the world through a lens of justice, which constantly informs who I am as a person both in and out of the classroom.  Jeanette taught me the careful combination of purposeful instructional strategies and human connection that we all need when we practice this work.

My literacy professor, Maureen Nosal, opened my ideas to the joy of literacy instruction and to how empowering it can be in students.  She taught us countless practical, thoughtful ways of teaching literacy and pushed us to live more literate lives, too.  I consider myself deeply lucky to work with her today, as she teaches fifth grade at The Learning Community.  Whenever I imagine good literacy instruction, I see Maureen doing it. Plus, I have a ton of binders of resources in my room from her class that I pull down any time I need a poem for read aloud or a suggestion for a text for guided reading.

I was lucky to have two incredibly skilled mentor teachers, too.  Working with both Michelle Manning and Amy Lopes taught me how to live as a teacher in the world, and I still have their voices in my head.  I use Michelle’s language when I talk to students every day. Even four years later, and I am constantly inspired to respond to students needs in the moment in a way Amy would.

Then there was my cohort, the other MATs going through the program with me.  I treasure the friendships that I started there, as we were able to work together, grow together, and support each other through a fundamentally difficult and challenging year.  I consider the people I met there some of my most treasured friends. I’m marrying one of them this summer.

How did the program meet your expectations?
When I came to the program I thought I was already ready for a classroom but I wasn’t at all. But it was after going through the program, and having inspiring role models like Amy, Michelle, Jeanette, or Maureen, I felt like I wasn’t at all ready! I looked at those inspiring teachers and wondered how I could do work like them.

It wasn’t until I’d been teaching for a bit during my first year that I really was ready – maybe not good yet, necessarily (what first year teacher is?) but having those rich experiences at Brown had taught me how to stand on my own, purposefully and reflectively.  I had developed instructional instincts for how to be in a classroom, how to respond to students, and how to differentiate and respond to them that I never would have had in my first year without the program. I suppose I expected to become a teacher, but I didn’t really know what a teacher was until after I was done.

How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
I knew I wanted my own classroom, and I wanted to focus on literacy.  As I worked during my MAT year, I realized that I wanted to work to empower young people through literacy.

This is my dream school, and it’s an honor to work here.  We teach using reading and writing workshop, and, without going into the thousand reasons why that’s fulfilling to me and my pedagogy, it’s a way of approaching education that lets students have agency and engages them in a dialogue with the goal of making them smarter and more powerful.  It’s a school where we continue that same academic sense of studying the practice of education to get smarter about our work that I learned to treasure during my time at Brown.  It’s a miraculous school, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the program.

What was the job search like after the program ended? What kind of support did you get from Brown in your search? Where did you first work?
I got a job in March. As I said, Brown is the reason I have this job; I don’t question that for a moment. I was able to follow through in the interview and the demo lesson because of the skills I’d learned from the program.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
If I’m being socially thoughtful, I’d name the ability to contribute to our society by working to make people more literate and empathetic.  But there’s also the fact that sixth graders are just wonky, weird, and hilarious.  It’s such a human profession that it can be so rich and fun and, yes, hard, too, but so much more worth it than so many other life choices I could imagine.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
Do it.  It will changed the way you work and think and live.  I believe that when you sign up to be a teacher, you are morally obligated to do the best work you can for your students, for their families, and for society, and Brown made me able to do that.

Oh, and here’s something else – if you go to the Rhode Island Recycling Center, you can buy really cheap binders. (Seriously, there were a lot of binders.)