FROM THE DEAN'S DESK
Frederick J. Antczak, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
We begin this 50th anniversary year with a little added pomp and the customary enthusiasm that always accompanies the beginning of the academic year. I’m hopeful that this is a year we will remember for all the right reasons.
Getting us off to a great start will be the groundbreaking ceremony on September 21 for the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons. That same week, CLAS is expecting to receive from the printer our annual report which this year is focused on the service provided by our faculty, staff and students. We’ll provide that report to several different kinds of relevant audiences including, on that very Saturday, the CLAS Alumni Board. Our Board members are enthusiastic ambassadors for us and support us in the wider community best when they are well briefed on our accomplishments.
This is also the season of our Fall Arts Celebration and several of you are playing starring roles. I urge new faculty in particular to make time for an event or more from this wonderful series as part of your introduction to Grand Valley.
This will be a year in which all units in CLAS will give considerable attention to accomplishing some of their goals and developing tactics that will best see them to fruition. The College Office will support your efforts in many ways from tips to templates, from sharing best practices to streamlining paperwork, and from providing accessible information to promotion of your activities. And, we’ll make the funding in the budget and that provided by the CLAS Fund for Excellence stretch as far as possible. Thank you, again, for remembering that fund in your giving to GVSU; a few dollars has made many important differences for our College.
I encourage you to keep up the very good work, which I described in my fall address, on identification of appropriate students for fellowships and on your own grant writing. Though we may have to learn to live with counting on the state for less, I want to see you fulfill your aspirations, albeit by other means. I’ll continue my work with donors and potential donors, and the fostering of networks that can help faculty, staff and students to progress toward their potential despite the challenges.
This fall the Intercultural Competence and Experience Certificate is open for business. Please support Regina McClinton of Cell and Molecular Biology as she gets this innovative program off the ground. Students will be pleasantly surprised at how accessible and flexible the certificate program is designed to be as they progress to timely graduation.
Paul Sweeney is credited with saying that “A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.” Though we celebrate a different sort of anniversary, many of the same elements are operative. My wish for you this year is that you find the right one at the moment you need it. Very best wishes for every success in the classroom and outside of it.
What the Associate Deans will be doing in September
AD Mary Schutten will continue to coordinate the alignment process for the CLAS strategic plan through a panel presentation at FTLC and collaborate with the Provost’s Office to refine the process and materials for the units to use during the upcoming AY. She will facilitate student grievances and inquiries as well as continue work on a task force in CLAS. She will also continue to implement and assess degree cognate substitution requests; support the CLAS Curriculum Committee; revise a manuscript on body mass, socioeconomic standing, fitness and academic achievement and other research in progress; as well as author and report data related to the school health education report for NCATE.
Jann Joseph will be planning the first annual CLAS Teaching Showcase, reviewing and implementing the New Faculty Mentoring Program, and planning New Faculty Orientation series.
Gary Stark will oversee course scheduling for 2011-12, inform units of personnel actions in 2010-11, and work with CPC on Fall cases. He will also assist with nominations for faculty awards, inform units of sabbatical eligibility, and assist units with revisions of the unit personnel documents.
Learning, Street Cred and the Cow Lady
by Monica Johnstone, PhD, Dir. of CLAS Communications & Advancement
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Pamela Wells, has been at GVSU since 1995 preparing pre-service elementary teachers to teach mathematics, improving the mathematical content knowledge of elementary and middle school teachers, and studying children's mathematical thinking.
Pam’s journey started with an interest in getting a PhD in Mathematics, but that plan was slightly adjusted when she became quite interested in pedagogy—how students do and do not learn. So she received her master’s degree and then went on to study Higher Ed with an emphasis in Mathematics for her PhD. As soon as she arrived at GVSU, a colleague interested her in working with elementary teachers.
As Pam explains, to prepare future elementary teachers meaningfully requires recent K-12 experience because real examples translate into classroom credibility. While she tends to spend two mornings a week working in the schools, her sabbatical year has been a chance for full immersion in the Jenison School District, consulting daily on the teaching of mathematics. “All day, all year, K-6, as the district-wide elementary math consultant in five elementary schools,” Pam notes and then with customary precision adds that three schools provided the closest view and that she was most heavily involved in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade levels.
Just as street cred is earned with her GVSU students, Pam found she needed to establish herself and earn the trust of the classroom teachers with whom she worked. She began with those who approached her and developed a collaborative, reflective style to ensure mutual understanding. This often involved modeling at first and later team teaching. She enjoyed the special opportunity of team teaching, describing it as, “building off each other—one talks and one processes which allows us to make choices based on student understanding.” The majority of her time was spent with teachers in their classrooms, with the rest spent on individual development activities and some one-on-one work with students.
“Elementary school teachers are stretched to the limits. I saw that up close—their direct responsibility for the kids means they can’t just pop down the hall for a coffee as we can. And their teaching is sometimes broken up when they are pulled from the classroom for other responsibilities such as data-driven assessment and response-to-intervention meetings,” Pam noted.
She also knows that the subject matter for which these teachers have the greatest passion is rarely math. It can feel like a stretch. Pam makes this reality work for her by showing these teachers how strategies they know from another subject area can work for math, too. She knows she has succeeded when a teacher says, “Pam, the way you teach math is just how I teach writing!” This acknowledgement opens a door to a discussion of how teaching writing or reading can translate to teaching math.
This connection is something familiar to those involved in pedagogical discussions here at GVSU between the College of Education, Mathematics and Writing. In fact, Pam is working on an article about applying writing strategies to the math classroom. She is involving one of the Jenison teachers (a GV alum) in a joint talk, and they hope to write an article together.
Pam’s own teaching at Grand Valley will make use of case studies based on the samples of student work she collected during her sabbatical. She feels confident it will help her students think like teachers.
She’s proud that through her work in particular at Rosewood Elementary, Pinewood Elementary and Bursley Elementary, she has become an increasingly good resource person. She’d have the right to be proud of the organization it took to work at two or more schools each day, made possible by a Google calendar that all of the teachers involved could access.
Pinewood Elementary served as her home base and inspired her to try something fun for the students there. Pam developed the Challenge of the Week (COW) and soon became known as “the cow lady.” Traveling home in the students’ Friday Folder was a non-traditional, non-computational exercise that could be worked on collaboratively with family members. Pam tested her challenges with various readers to help her avoid jargon and ensure that the exercises would make sense to parents. Many of the problems were real world topics such as how much fencing would be needed, or how many ways you can make change for 75 cents. She strove to make the COWs look engaging from the outset.
Though optional from Pam’s perspective, some of the students completed them all and some of the teachers assigned them while others just encouraged the kids to give it a try. Pam commented on those that came in and provided a prize from a drawing among those with right answers (sometimes with a little extra encouragement sent the way of kids who needed it). At the bottom of the sheet, she often received supportive comments from parents who might not have realized that they should be experiencing math with their children in much the way they think about reading with them.
The year seemed over too soon, as good experiences often do. Pam will be back to her sabbatical stomping grounds a couple times a week and looks forward to seeing the progress of particular students with conceptual difficulties they were working to overcome. She’s looking forward to keeping up with the wonderful teachers she partnered with over the year. She’s hoping they will continue to be open to allowing her to try some techniques with the students to see how they’ll work. “It’s exciting to try new things,” Pam says. “It was hard to have a bad day—students are happy to see you and think you are very cool; that definitely recharged my batteries.”
It isn’t hard to see why. Pam’s creativity has led to projects like linking Reading Month (March) to math by reading aloud carefully selected books which raise mathematical concepts. In fact, she’s written lesson plans for about 20 of them.
Pam found her sabbatical to be a great opportunity and is thankful that scholarship broadly defined is honored at GVSU.
Clearly, through Pam’s work with their teachers, the kids were engaging mathematics in a more meaningful way. Pam tells the story of one 5th grader who lacked confidence in math though a strong and eclectic reader. Her teacher had made a breakthrough with her on adding mixed numbers to the point that the student was able to get up to explain the concept to the other kids. One day soon after, finishing her work early, the student looked up and said, “I need another one,” then reflected, “I never thought I’d say that about math!”