A group of 50 teachers -- 25 each from Turkey and Armenia -- are concluding six weeks on the Indiana University Bloomington campus as part of a U.S. Embassy-sponsored program to help the teachers learn new techniques for the classroom and new ideas for diplomacy. The Turkish-Armenian Summer Teaching Institute is a project of the Center for Social Studies and International Education (CSSIE) at Indiana University with the participation of IUPUI'S Center for Urban and Multicultural Education (CUME).
The focus over the month and a half has been largely on how to help the teachers bring more student-centered learning to their classrooms. All are middle- and high-school English teachers in either Armenia or Turkey. Embedded in the professional development institute is a goal of allowing the educators from the countries with a long history of strained relations to learn about each other.
"We're very careful to not make them feel as if we have a hidden agenda," said CSSIE Director Terry Mason, professor of curriculum and instruction at the IU School of Education. "I suppose we have an agenda, but it's not very hidden. We just hope that they learn to live together, to communicate with one another and to appreciate each other as they develop personal and professional relationships."
The peoples of Turkey and Armenia have a centuries-old conflict. While Turkey recognized the newly independent country of Armenia when it was formed from the collapsed Soviet Union in 1991, it closed its borders with Armenia in 1993. An agreement to establish mutual diplomatic recognition nearly two years ago has not yet led to formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, something U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed for during a visit to Turkey last week.
Within the walls of Indiana University, representatives of the two nations have been more than diplomatic. "We started here as two groups -- a Turkish group and an Armenian group," said Turkish teacher Alper Etyemez. "Now we have turned into a single group. There is no Turkish group or Armenian group; we are all together."
The project came to IU after a successful bid for a project sought by the U.S. Embassies of Turkey and Armenia. The embassies wanted a program that would both show how current approaches to English language teaching can be used to develop critical thinking skills and build tolerance among adolescent students. After getting the project bid, Mason, CSSIE associate director Arlene Benitez, and Rob Helfenbein, associate professor of curriculum studies at the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, traveled to the countries briefly to get a better idea of the teaching environments of the project participants.
"The project intentionally did a geographic distribution of both countries," Helfenbein said. "So even though two teachers are from Turkey, they don't know each other." He added that the distribution has also meant a range of teachers from a range of school types in urban and rural settings and from different cultural settings.
The teachers were selected for their willingness to try new approaches in the classroom and openness to learning about other cultures. Mason said the participants who have come here certainly reflected that.
"It was immediately apparent that we were very lucky to have a group of people that had been screened and well selected to embrace the spirit of the project," he said. "They have endorsed our approach to teaching for the most part and they have been extremely interested in finding out about their counterparts from the other country."
As a part of an ongoing Indiana University School of Education partnership focusing on literacy skills with the Gary Community School Corporation’s Dr. Bernard C. Watson K-6 Boys Academy, a group of Watson students created and performed their own play in mid-May. The performance capped a whirlwind of work by Gus Weltsek, visiting assistant professor in the department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education, with Watson Academy 5th Grade Teacher Beverly Jelks and her students.
Weltsek worked with the students on skills of dramatic storytelling such as staging and presentation; Jelks prompted the students to develop their own original work based on their life experiences. This video takes you to the performance and behind the scenes of rehearsals as Weltsek, Jelks, and the students prepared their work.
The IU School of Education’s Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration began a partnership with Watson Academy including faculty professional development and program support in 2006. Watson and Frankie Woods McCullough Girls Academy have worked with School of Education faculty and staff to improve student academic performance.“Our focus with the Watson school has been around literacy--all different kinds of literacies, including numerical literacy and digital literacy,” said Claire King, Associate Director for School and Community Partnerships at the P-16 Center.
The IU School of Education partnership with Watson and McCullough has helped enrich and enhance the educational experience for Gary students. Watson students who are part of the school’s drum corp performed at the IU School of Education in Bloomington and a Bloomington elementary school in February. Last fall, the P-16 Center helped to organize a Saturday event where students learned to design and build robotics using LEGOs. Mentors from IU Northwest’s Student African American Brotherhood organization have connected with Watson students. McCullough has met federal AYP or “Adequate Yearly Progress” in the last two years, a result McCullough’s principal credits to the work of her teachers and students with their IU partners.
More than 220 educators from three states and around 50 facilitators took part in the third annual "Learning by Doing: Project-Based Learning Institute" in Indianapolis June 27 through June 30. It was a four-day event concluding sponsored by the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI, the University of Indianapolis and its Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL), and the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township—host of the event at Ben Davis High School.
Project-based learning (PBL) requires students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Teachers throughout Indiana and across the country have been adopting its techniques as a way to engage students in content by placing it in a “real world” context and emphasizing skills of collaboration and teamwork with classmates.
Teaching teams from Utah and Ohio again joined Indiana participants for this year’s event—they also came to the 2010 PBL Institute. The institute opened with a new pre-workshop event, added content disciplines, addressed PBL in the context of standards and testing, and expanded the grade level of teachers. During the first two years, participants have been focused on teaching middle school through postsecondary. This summer’s program has added elementary-level teaching.
Joy Seybold, chair of secondary teacher education and coordinator for the Transition to Teaching Program at IUPUI, said that the continued spread of PBL at the middle school and beyond has spurred elementary teachers to learn more, even if they aren’t fully using PBL for their students. “They want to prepare students so they’re ready for the new tech approach when they get to high school,” Seybold said. “So I think that’s partially why there’s a growing interest among the elementary population. But then there have been several elementary schools that have been more or less project-based all along and now they’re taking it to the next step.”
This year’s event has also attracted more teachers from different subject areas who want to partner on PBL projects. “We’re pulling a lot more school teams, particularly high school interdisciplinary teams,” said Adriana Melnyk-Brandt, director of professional development for the IU School of Education at IUPUI. “This is exciting because we’re seeing a new approach at the high school level, with teachers trying to take it across all content areas.” Melnyk-Brandt added that the institute has many more first-time participants this summer from a range of schools, including charters, parochial, and more rural settings.
There are more specialized areas covered during the workshop as well, this year including librarians, or media specialists. Rhonda Huisman, assistant librarian at the IUPUI University Library and liaison to the School of Education, said that she observed last year’s PBL Institute “and there were lots and lots of question of questions that I thought librarians could answer.”
Huisman said elementary librarians often have a chance to co-create student PBL units with teachers, and there are also opportunities for middle and high school teachers to partner with librarians. She said she also wanted to give others some thoughts about how they might drive a PBL lesson plan using library resources. “Some participants right now have no librarian at their school,” Huisman said. “So this is the perfect opportunity for them to sort of pick our brains about what would we do if we were there to assist them, and even give them some outside support once they leave here.”
Seybold said an added piece this year is helping teachers use each other as resources after the workshop is over. All participants are establishing accounts this week through “Edmodo”-- a free social learning network for teachers, students, and schools that can help the teachers share ideas, lesson plans, and seek advice. “So we’re hoping that the online networking will really support them over the time that they’re implementing the projects that they develop here,” Seybold said.
More than 200 educators participated in the third annual collaboration between Indiana University and a southern Indiana coalition of business, education, and community leaders to spread project-based learning (PBL) principles to area schools. "The PBL Academy" held a week-long session at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School June 13-17, following sessions on the IU Bloomington campus. The PBL Academy is a joint project of Indiana University and EcO15, an initiative of business, education and community leaders to advance K-12 education in a 10-county area in southeastern Indiana funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) and the I-STEM Resource Network are supporting the PBL Academy.
The PBL Academy has grown out an effort by IU School of Education Mathematics Education Professor Catherine Brown. The ICHE funded "Math Matters" with around 50 teachers in 2009, expanding to add science curriculum last year with "Molecules Matter"--organized by IU College of Arts and Sciences Senior Lecturer in Chemistry Jill Robinson. More than 80 teachers participated in 2010. This year, around 215 teachers, administrators, and other educators have packed the sessions and others had to be turned away because of space limitations.
"It is gratifying," Brown said. "It's a little nerve wracking to get up to this size this fast, but I think it speaks to the fact that there's kind of a self-evident benefit to using project based learning."
"The growth was much more rapid than we anticipated, frankly," said Bob Abrams, facilitator with EcO15—short for "Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015. EcO15 covers Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, Franklin and Switzerland counties.
Teachers from those counties as well as Monroe, Brown, and Lake Counties are participating. "This region is becoming a very strong PBL community and we have some schools in this region that as a result of their experience with this PBL training workshop are converting themselves to some degree as PBL schools.
Project-based learning is a teaching and learning method that encourages students to drive their learning by using inquiry and technology to investigate a project. Such projects can range across several disciplines. Proponents say the students work in a more realistic or "real-world" fashion while also absorbing material more readily because of their interest and engagement with the project.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education granted the IU School of Education at IUPUI $1.5 million dollars to form a partnership between the School of Education and the Indianapolis Public Schools, funding a project to better prepare new teachers, develop skills of current teachers, and revise college faculty teaching methods for teaching English language learners. Fifty-five elementary, middle, and secondary teachers from three schools took part in addition to the 29 faculty members in teacher education. The project directed by associate professor of language education Annela Teemant is beginning to report data, and the signs are encouraging. “It’s changing how they teach every child,” Teemant said. “These standards have been shown to be pivotally important for English language learners, but they work for all learners.”
The key is instruction based around 5 standards for effective pedagogy. The standards promote use of collaborative products and activities, emphasizing language and literacy development, placing the learning in context students can understand, creating challenging activities, and teaching through conversations with the students. Teachers avoid a “stand and deliver” lecture. Teemant worked with a designated “coach” who met with teachers 7 times across the school year to conduct “instructional coaching,” emphasizing teachers’ work to transform their classroom methods and curriculum. “And what we’re seeing is dramatic transformation in the classroom,” Teemant said.
Before the program, participating elementary teachers spent two-thirds of classroom time in lecture mode—a large group configuration. “Only 25 percent of the time were students actually asked to read, write, speak,” Teemant said. “So in those conditions, it’s very hard for a student to gain English proficiency.” After a year of coaching, teachers spent 83 percent of their time in small groups—ones emphasizing the effective pedagogical standards. Following up a year after the change, the elementary teachers—measured on a quantitative scale—still maintained the new method.
Teemant said sustaining the changeover has been a little more difficult at the secondary level and preliminary data indicates more coaching sessions may be needed for high school teachers. While the methods are generally tied to better student achievement, specific findings from this study are still to come.
This video introduces some of the teachers at Meredith Nicholson Elementary (IPS #96) in Indianapolis, who talk about how the program has positively influenced or completely changed their teaching methods. You’ll see one of the first meetings of the teachers when the program began, hear the teachers’ thoughts about what it might mean and what it’s become. Teemant speaks about how this professional development program may evolve.
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