Broadening the Conversations in Education

Nelson_Priscilla_2008_11_20_11_38_32While several Gordon professors spent this past weekend engaging in a variety of conversations with colleagues in education, both at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities national forum as well as the 33rd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience, Priscilla Nelson, associate professor of education and chair of early childhood, elementary and special education, travelled to St. Louis for the national gathering of the Association of Teacher Educators. Nelson presented on her recent scholarship efforts in a workshop entitled, “Integrating STEM into Preservice Teacher Preparation: A Partnership Model.” Here is the abstract of her talk:

“Elementary preservice teachers often lack sufficient knowledge in science. The current trend is to integrate science content, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into the primary and elementary school curriculum. When and where are teachers prepared to teach using STEM principles?  In teacher preparation programs and in school districts, it is common for science instruction to receive less attention than math and reading. This may be due to the urgency of passing state tests in other areas or budgetary concerns leading to inadequate science materials being readily available. The release of the Next Generation Science Standards and mandatory science tests in some states increases the urgency for school districts to provide STEM professional development for their teachers who already feel pressured in reading and math.  Teacher preparation programs must also update their programs to reflect the NGSS in both content knowledge and pedagogy while maintaining the rigor of preparation to teach other content areas as well.

“One college redesigned its science methods course through partnering with an elementary science program that is used in the local public schools where the preservice teachers will complete a practicum. College students were trained on campus using a published elementary science program that integrates STEM and language arts. Pre and post testing showed that preservice teachers’ knowledge base and confidence in teaching science increased. When preservice teachers taught new science topics in the public school classroom, new topics were equally embraced. Confidence remained steady and evidence of meeting language arts standards was visible. Supervising practitioners reported positive experiences.”

New Frontiers: Faculty Expand Their Influence

Gordon has long recognized the impact and influence of its professors beyond the classroom and into the broader academic landscape. Recently, four professors took on new opportunities.

While on sabbatical this semester, Tim Sherratt, professor of political science, was named as a Fellow at the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C. His role there will be to continue writing and creating interactive content about the political values of the CPJ.  According to the CPJ announcement, “The primary project Sherratt will complete as a CPJ Fellow first will engage local congregations—particularly those who say they don’t have a reason to have a Christian perspective on politics—to generate questions.”

Though she’s also on sabbatical, Janis Flint-Ferguson, professor of Education and English, has been invited to speak at the national convention for the National Council of Teachers of English on Nov. 23. Building on the conference theme of “Re-inventing the Future of English,” Flint-Ferguson‘s talk address the integration of ELA and history using genres to teach reading and writing in middle school.

Patricia Anders, part-time instructor in the Department of English Language and Literature, is now an associate editor at Hendrickson Publishers. One of her roles will be acquiring new titles for the Hendrickson list, and she hopes to guide faculty with appropriate book proposal. (A Gordon alumna who works at Hendrickson Publishers wrote the press release on Anders’ new role.)

John Sarrouf, adjunct professor of Peace and Conflict Studies as well as communication arts, directs The Family Dinner Project for The Public Conversations Project, a local non profit grassroots movement of food, fun and conversation. He was recently invited to pen the organization’s most recent family blog post, “Don’t Yuck on my Yam: A Mantra for the Table and Beyond.”

Visiting the Land of Peter Rabbit and His Creator

Janis Flint-Ferguson in Ambleside, England.

As many fans and scholars honor the 70th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s death, Janis Flint-Ferguson, professor of English and education, visited the author’s home in June to see first hand the setting that launched such works as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “The Tale of Gloucester.” A lecturer with Wisconsin Lutheran College for its “Best of Britain” course, Flint-Ferguson, along with 11 undergraduate students, spent four days in Ambleside of the Lake District north of London. With dozens of walking paths, trails and hills, the rural beauty of the Lake District is both a tourist destination and the inspiration for much of Britain’s best literature, especially, Flint-Ferguson said, from the Romantic period. The class visited William Wordsworth’s home as well as the property and home of Potter (1866-1943). Here’s what Flint-Ferguson, whose expertise includes children’s literature, said about Potter:

“At the 70th anniversary of Potter’s death, it was particularly interesting to visit her home and land. As the grandmother of children’s literature, she revolutionized the genre through her illustrations and stories. For instance, as a natural scientist and conservationist, she studied all of the mold and fungi in the Lake District’s wooded areas, fields and pastures so as to draw them in detail, using her scientific skill and knowledge to capture them in illustrations. Many of these drawings as well as her journals were on display at her home this past summer, which we got to see.

At Potter’s home.

“The Lake District is also home to the sheep industry in England—Potter herself owned some 270 sheep farms in the region—and when she died, she left all of her property to the National Trust of England, which virtually opened up the Lake District. She wanted people to be able to come and see, to walk and enjoy the area as much as she did. But in terms of her literary contributions, she wrote in good, standard, proper and appropriate English, even though some of her editors felt she should ‘dumb down’ a bit for children. But she absolutely refused. And as a result it was one of the first times in England that parents were reading to their children, not in simplified English but in good standard English. There’s some tough vocabulary in her books. She would also sometimes ask caretakers to bring  dead animals to her—mice, rats, rabbits—where she would set them on the desk in front of her to draw them. So when you’re looking at the illustrations in her books, you’re not only seeing the setting in her home but every animal drawn anatomically correct because she studied them so carefully. She was a woman far more intelligent and curious about the natural world than we often give her credit for being.”

Faculty Kudos: Essays, Books and Professional Contributions

As the fall 2012 semester came to a close, there was much to celebrate with our faculty’s many recent contributions in their respective fields. Here’s a very brief overview:

Provost Curry

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay by Provost Janel Curry this week in its careers section. The essay entitled, The Education of a Provost” chronicles Dr. Curry‘s path to her position at Gordon and reminds readers that no part of their journey is wasted. 

Craig Story

Craig Story, associate professor of biology and advisor for Gordon’s health professions, and Justin Topp, associate professor of biology, recently received news of a generous grant from the BioLogos Foundation to “build an international network of pastors committed to increasing their scientific literacy.” (A formal announcement will be forthcoming.)

Assistant professor of English Chad Stutz just signed a contract for a book published by British house Paternoster Press as part of their Studies in Evangelical History and Thought series. With a tentative title, Evangelicals and Aesthetics from the 1750s to the 1930s, the book provides an intellectual history of a largely forgotten tradition of aesthetic discourse among British and American evangelicals between the time of the first awakenings of a modern aesthetic consciousness in the eighteenth century to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century.

Gordon education students with students from Lynn Classical High

Gordon education students in the course, Understanding the Context of the Urban School and ESL students from Lynn Classical High collaborated on an interactive field trip exploring the benefits of higher education, thanks to adjunct professor of education and alumna Melissa Winchell who organized the event.

Judith Oleson, professor of social work, supervised nine social work students in field placements in Romania, San Francisco, and throughout Boston’s North and South Shores. Students served in various councils on aging, youth and family services agencies, Catholic Charities, and specific intervention programs.

In an essay entitled, “More Powerful Than Words” and published in the Huffington Post, Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, explored the impact of symbols through his Accessibility Icon Project

Professor of history Jennifer Hevelone-Harper wrote an editorial entitled, “How St. Francis Made Christmas New and Smelly” that appeared on the opinion page of the Salem News, a regional newspaper that reaches several thousand in circulation across the North Shore of Boston.

Read On: One Teacher Educator’s Practice

As the school year gets underway, a teacher’s job makes the difference. Priscilla Nelson, associate professor of early childhood and elementary education, says reading instruction is linked to all other learning and models it in her classes at Gordon. She outlined her experience in an article for the summer 2012 Action in Teacher Education issue of the Journal of the Association of Teacher Educators. Below is the abstract for Nelson‘s article entitled, “Activating the Need to Know in Reading Instruction: One Teacher Educator’s Practice.”

Abstract: “This article examines one teacher educator’s teaching of reading methods at a university that was recognized for exemplary reading instruction. Data collected over the course of one semester indicated that she modeled the teaching of reading and served as a catalyst in activating preservice teachers’ need to know about how to teach reading by helping each one make a personal connection to the content through assignments, feedback, class sessions, and field assignments. This teacher educator’s practice can inform others who seek to establish closer and more productive links between coursework, fieldwork, and prospective teachers’ teaching.”

Young Adult Fiction on the Move with “The Hunger Games” and New Baseball Novels

Young adult fiction is moving these days. That is, story lines are including an interesting amount of sport and culture-related themes. From the archery in “The Hunger Games” to new books about baseball, Janis Flint-Ferguson, professor of English and Education who specializes in young adult literature, sees young readers gravitating toward books with which they can best identify.

As part of her ongoing scholarship and dialogue with novelists of young adult fiction, Flint-Ferguson will host Chris Crowe (“Mississippi Trial, 1955”)  and John H. Ritter (“The Boy Who Saved Baseball”), Tuesday, May 1, 4:00-6:00 p.m. at Gordon’s Tavilla conference room for area teachers and anyone interested in young adult novels. The event is free and open to the public. And on Friday, May 4, at 4:00 p.m. the two authors and Flint-Ferguson will join area youth at the Gordon baseball field for a special event, “Take me Out to the Ball Game” to celebrate the release of Ritter’s new book, “Fenway Fever.”

Here’s what Flint-Ferguson said recently about the authors, their books and the best-selling book-turned-box-office hit, “The Hunger Games”:

“John (Ritter) is great about seeing baseball as a metaphor for life. He and Chris are good friends and both have explored important issues in their books for young people. To have them in our community gives us a unique opportunity to understand how books (like these) appeal to today’s young people. Their work, along with The Hunger Games, shows how a good story can cross grade levels.

For instance, like Harry Potter, students across age groups are reading The Hunger Games and though I think it’s much more of a high school-upper middle school book with some of the issues that are raised, like any good piece of literature it does include some political aspects that might be missed by younger readers who will simply enjoy the adventure of it. Harry Potter was a little easier to deal with (for adults) because those stories included magic, things we know would never really happen. But children fighting against children (in The Hunger Games) means that the violence in the story raises possibilities. It’s real, happening on streets across the country. And that creates an interesting discussion for us all to have.

“Part of the reason I believe The Hunger Games is so popular is because it is the extreme of the world we live in, where pop culture television shows are all game shows with intense competition. It has a survivor feel to it but with a recognition of the dark side  of humanity, so while reality television is a familiar concept, the book introduces discerning readers to a more analytical view of what they are watching. This is a book that raises questions of what entertainment actually is, a great question for middle and high school students to be asking.  It is different from other recent books because while the survivor element invites creativity and problem solving, it always includes a dark side. It asks us to consider, what kind of a society would come to this kind of entertainment as sport? That of course harkens back to Greek mythology. So it’s not a new story but there’s certainly a new twist to it, and suggests that dystopia themes have become mainstream. While we’re not living in a dystopian society, there are certainly elements of dystopia around us; children whose parents are struggling to make ends meet and have lost jobs, who live in fear or concern, are gravitating to the themes in these books. And having these themes in a book means that a reader can control them; in a world where so much seems out of control for today’s young people, if it’s too much for them to handle, they can close the book and have some control. The Hunger Games helps us all understand the effect that our adult world and adult values have on young people.”