Teacher-Developed Curricular Resources Available

The following information about the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute was contributed by the program’s Josiah Brown.

New Teacher-Developed Curricular Resources Available; Partnership Completes 38th Year, Prepares for 2016

Curriculum units that teachers from fifteen New Haven public schools developed as Fellows in four Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars in 2015 are available at this website. (http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/)

One-third of the 2015 Fellows participated in the Institute for the first time; others did so for a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth, or even in one case an eighteenth time.  Overall, nearly half of Fellows completed the Institute for at least the third time, developing their and their schools’ teaching capacity.

The Fellows represent fifteen schools, seven of which have two or more current Fellows each – including Cooperative Arts and Humanities, which has eight Fellows. Other schools with multiple current Fellows are Betsy Ross, Engineering and Science (ESUMS), Hyde, Metropolitan Business, New Horizons, and Wilbur Cross. Also represented among the 2015 Fellows are Career, Columbus, Conte/West Hills, Davis, Edgewood, John Martinez, Nathan Hale, and Roberto Clemente schools.  (In addition, Fellows from previous years are at schools across the district.)  Three of the 2015 New Haven Fellows – from Edgewood, ESUMS, and Hyde – were also in national seminars, among National Fellows from 19 school districts in eight states.

The new volumes of curricular resources contain units by New Haven teachers, who worked as colleagues with Yale faculty members in the humanities and the sciences who led four concurrent seminars on campus during the spring and summer.  The volumes are:

• “Teaching Native American Studies,” from a seminar on “American Indian History, 1492 to the Present,” led by Ned Blackhawk, Professor of History and of American Studies;

• “American Culture in the Long 20th Century,” led by Matthew Frye Jacobson, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History;

• “Physics and Chemistry of the Earth’s Atmosphere and Climate,” led by Steve K. Lamoreaux, Professor of Physics;

• “Big Molecules, Big Problems,” led by Andrew D. Miranker, Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and of Chemical Engineering.

Arts and Humanities, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

The curriculum units include appendices with references to academic standards they pursue in the teaching of reading, writing, literature, mathematics, science, history, art, music, and Spanish, as well as English.  The units that Fellows prepared across the four seminars are intended to challenge and motivate students, in the context of district curricula. Many of the Fellows explicitly cited Common Core standards – and, in a few cases, the emerging Next Generation Science Standards – to which their units relate.

In introducing the volume on “Teaching Native American Studies” (the product of a seminar on “American Indian History, 1492 to the Present”), Ned Blackhawk described the Fellows’ units. He said, “Several examine contemporary Native American literature, using a range of fictional and theatrical accounts.  Others probe the limits of current pedagogical approaches to U.S. history and provide ways of incorporating Native American history into the classroom.  Generally, they are all animated by a deep sense of concern about the lack of existing curricular materials available for public education.  Nearly all attempt to incorporate the voices, texts, and experiences of Native Americans within contemporary American society in their unit, deploying Native voices to fill the long-standing voids and silences that have historically framed curricular approaches to the continent’s Indigenous peoples.”  He continued, “A recurring theme [was] … the profound dissonance between the experiential nature of Native American life and history and the familiarity of one dimensional and often simplistic portrayals of Native people in popular culture…. For example, the mythology of early New England history with stories of Native peoples welcoming Puritan settlers starkly contrasted with our readings about the Puritan conquest of Connecticut, the Pequot War, and Mystic River Massacre.”  According to Professor Blackhawk, “Several units are geared towards elementary-school children.  Most are for high-school students.  The power of Native voices to de-mystify Indian history and complicate familiar images and understandings became the most commonly utilized methodology developed within this Institute program.”

Christine Elmore, who teaches at Davis Street School and has participated in the Teachers Institute for 18 of the past 24 years since she was first a Fellow in 1992, prepared a unit to teach her first-graders about the Cherokee Trail of Tears, as students develop their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.  She said, “The opportunity to participate in a seminar led by a Yale professor and to interact with my colleagues (many of whom I would never have occasion otherwise to get to know as they are teachers of older grades) draws me back year after year. This year … I focused on creating a curriculum unit that would help my young learners gain some familiarity with the forced removal of sixteen thousand Cherokee Indians from their homes in Georgia to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1838.  I took a very interdisciplinary approach, as I have done in all my units, and incorporated historical documents, eyewitness accounts, Cherokee family stories, paintings, poetry, songs, ‘youtube’ videos as well as children’s historical fiction books and informational texts in my unit. As a result of my seminar experience, this became a topic very close to my heart, and I look forward to teaching the unit this year.”

Regarding the volume on “American Culture in the Long 20th Century,” seminar leader Matthew Frye Jacobson noted, “Beginning in about the 1990s, the discipline of History took what has come to be known as ‘the cultural turn’” as “scholars began to see the value of approaching ‘culture’ itself as an object of historical study, tracing and contextualizing the development of various cultural forms and institutions: World’s Fairs, the vaudeville stage, cinema and the broadcast media, jazz, the roadhouse, the motor hotel, amusement or theme parks, or the Internet.”  In addition, “Other historians … began to find recourse in ‘cultural’ sources (films, plays, advertisements) to answer broader historical questions in the realm of politics and society.  For example, one cannot fully understand class-based identities and relations in the United States without reckoning with the powerful narratives, myths, and icons of American mobility…. The political behavior of social ‘classes’ as ‘classes,’ in other words, is informed not only by the facts on the ground, but also by the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible.”  This seminar “examined these interpretive threads in the period from the 1890s to the present…. Topics included the Great African American Migration and the Harlem Renaissance; the culture of the Great Depression; cultures of war and Cold War; the counterculture and the social movements of the 1960s; U.S. popular culture and the Vietnam War; multiculturalism and the ‘culture wars’; and the culture of insecurity in the wake of 9/11.”  Professor Jacobson observed, “The Fellows who participated in this seminar … developed ten highly innovative curriculum units, each in its way reflecting the group’s ongoing discussion of ‘culture’ as an object of historical inquiry and as a force in American political and social life…. As a group, these curriculum units offer superb insight and guidelines when it comes to teaching critical thinking, historical interpretation, and imaginative habits of inquiry, as well as teaching history itself, not as some distant, dead thing, but as the very stuff that the present is made of.”

Eric Maroney, a teacher of high-school English at Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) who has been a Fellow for the past two years, said, “The Institute experience has supported me in researching and developing a unit that places literature inside a historical and cultural framework. Too often, the books students read are reduced to a collection of an author’s technical choices divorced from the social and political context in which they were written.”  However, “Literature is a cultural artifact, and framing it as such enables young readers to investigate the way good writing is both shaped by and helps to shape the historical moment it is born into. In this sense, reading becomes a relevant and deeply political activity that engages young mind in a quest to understand their world.”  He continued, “The best part of the Institute model is the way it raises the academic culture within and across schools. Throughout the seminar I found myself comparing notes and discussing reading material informally with other participants in my school. The seminar experience provides a common lens for thinking about planning and instruction. Moreover, it creates opportunity for genuine collaboration while acknowledging the expertise teachers bring to their craft.”

Steve K. Lamoreaux, who led the seminar on “Physics and Chemistry of the Earth’s Atmosphere and Climate,” explained that he has over several years developed “an elementary model of the atmosphere” and that “the goal of my seminar was to motivate and present this model to the Fellows, along with discussions of human impacts on the climate and environment.”  He said, “Amid the ever-increasing rate of release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we are conducting a global experiment that has potential to end badly…. The problem is that we would like the Earth to remain exactly as it is now.  That isn’t going to happen, irrespective of human activity; the evidence in the Earth’s geological record proves with 100% reliability that things will change. We don’t, however, want to make things worse.”  He continued, “The foundation of this seminar was built on two books, The Alchemy of Air, by Thomas Hager, and The Two Mile Time Machine, by Richard B. Alley….  The first describes the scientific and engineering history of the rise of artificially produced fertilizer that relies on the ‘fixation’ of atmospheric nitrogen by the Haber-Bosch process.… The second book describes the history of the Earth’s climate and atmosphere as determined through … the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet cores…. The overall message … is that the Earth’s climate has varied widely in the past, and will likely do so in the future.”  According to Professor Lamoreaux, “Human-induced climate change has to be identified in this context.  These two books were supplemented by newspaper articles, National Geographic and Scientific American articles, and various online resources” as well as “four field trips.”  In addition, “A number of demonstrations were performed for the seminar, including ones addressing black body radiation, carbon dioxide and its properties, oxygen and its properties, fixation of nitrogen and catalysis, adiabatic processes, and the nature of light and artificial illumination.”  Finally, he said, “The Fellows’ units represent thoughtful analyses of the subjects and issues that were discussed in the seminar; Fellows have tied their particular units into the Connecticut curricular expectations and academic standards.”

Alexandra Novak, who teaches sixth-grade science and language arts at Conte/West Hills School and participated as a Fellow for the first time this year, said: “As a former art teacher now focused on science and literacy, I – and my teaching – benefited in countless ways from taking part in the YNHTI.  The seminar with Steve Lamoreaux provided an in-depth look at the Earth’s atmosphere and climate change, which immensely bolstered my content knowledge.  The demonstrations, site visits, and seminar discussions offered many ideas for interactive and inventive projects to take back to Conte/West Hills – a school that embraces project-based learning through exploration and innovation.”

Andrew D. Miranker, in introducing the volume on “Big Molecules, Big Problems,” spoke of “the molecules of life.  Skin is elastic at birth, wrinkled and inflexible when we are old.  The collagen that is responsible for this is a big molecule, yet still too small to see.  Insulin made by the pancreas … finds its way to your arm, signaling the tissue to take up any sugar.”  He said that his seminar’s approach “was to visit one after another amazing molecular machine and break it down into a discussion about the same small set of simple parts and the same small set of simple forces that govern them.”  First, “Participants began … by learning the computer skills necessary for looking at the known atomic structures of proteins and DNA.”  He noted, “We took some excursions to some big molecules making big news: Alzheimer’s, cancer, sequencing all of your DNA and CRISPR/Cas9.”  Yet before considering such matters as gene-editing, “The seminar started with the basics: Scientists motivated only by curiosity were studying what many thought was just an unused area of a bacterium’s DNA…. It seems that even bacteria have an immune system…. We discussed how this machine could be taken from bacteria and put into most any organism to change its DNA code.  One day it will save millions of lives and improve the quality of life for countless others.  Or one day it could be used to make genetically modified children….  Or one day, it will allow a government to create diseases that only infect and kill its enemies.  These grand hopes and fears litter the popular press, and we discussed how the CRISPR/Cas9 machine might actually be able or not be able to do these things.”  He recounted, “We ended our seminar with a field trip to the Yale Medical School to visit the laboratory of Professor Chuck Sindelar … one of the scientists who has the tools and expertise to look at and solve the atomic structures of these big molecules.”  Professor Miranker concluded, “The discussions produced a very diverse set of units,” addressing topics ranging from “the forces that attract and repel and bond molecules together” to both infectious and “non-infectious diseases,” “different classes of error in surveillance,” and a comparison of “sugar and artificial sweeteners.”

Andrea Zullo, who teaches biology at Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine, has participated as a Fellow for each of her first two years as a teacher in New Haven.  She said, “The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute is a unique opportunity for teacher-directed content development.  The Institute is completely different from other professional development experiences.  It is more authentic.  I can identify the deficiencies in my curriculum and fill in the gaps.  This year, I was in the ‘Big Molecules, Big Problems’ seminar, tackling how surveillance errors in the body can cause a wide array of diseases.  Not only did I walk away with a better understanding of how the body works with regards to my topic, but I was also able to explore the topics of other Fellows.  We work together, sharing ideas, to develop a volume of amazing resources for ourselves and other teachers.  It is a rewarding experience to create something meaningful and to expand your mind as you work to expand the minds of your students.”

A Guide to the 2015 curriculum units includes introductions by the Yale faculty seminar leaders, as well as summaries of each unit and recommendations from their authors about subjects and grade levels in which the units might be taught, beyond Fellows’ own classrooms.  Hundreds of additional units are available in school libraries or online through the Institute’s search engine, subject Index, and volumes from previous years.  These resources are available for non-commercial, educational use by teachers, parents, and students of all ages.

Teacher Leadership

Teachers serving as the Institute’s 2015-16 school Representatives and Contacts are disseminating the new curricular resources while canvassing colleagues’ suggestions for seminar topics the Institute might address in 2016 to meet teachers’ and students’ needs across the curriculum.  Interested teachers should speak with their school representative.

Teachers Institutes are educational partnerships between universities and school districts designed to strengthen teaching and learning in a community’s public schools. The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools is a long-term endeavor to influence public policy toward teacher professional development, in part by establishing exemplary Teachers Institutes in underserved school districts in states throughout the country. The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a permanently endowed academic unit of Yale University, is beginning its 39th year.


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