My day at THV… July 28, 2015 –Emily Lombardo
Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV), launched in 2003 and with the mission of helping, “explore and share the region’s natural, historic, and cultural treasures with children and youth while fostering collaboration between schools and informal learning places such as museums, historic sites, and parks”. On the morning of July 28th museum personnel, students, educators (with varying specialties and grade level associations), individuals from libraries and history organizations, along with environmental societies and lifelong learners gathered in the Henry A. Wallace visitor and education center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
The conference this year was titled, “Teaching for Engagement in the Hudson Valley, The Next 100 Years Depend on It: Discovering the tools to understanding culture, environment, and history.” The first day of the conference consisted of two keynote speakers (Philip Yenawine speaking on Visual Thinking Strategies, and Jimmy Karlan speaking on Plot Based Science Education). A variety of workshops were offered with topics including, Eleanor Roosevelt, Climate Change, Community Engagement, and Civic Literacy Projects. The collection of workshops allowed for diverse group of attendees to choose topics, which best related to their fields.
The first of the two keynote presentations for the day was given by Philip Yenawine, co-founder, Visual Thinking Strategies, and author of Key Art Terms for Beginners as well as his latest book titled Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a research based method (http://www.vtshome.org/pages/research) focused on teacher-facilitated discussions of art images. The strategy addresses the Common Core Standards of oral and written language literacy and visual literacy along with improving critical thinking skills. Yenawine provided the audience of learners with an example of how the strategy operates with the group acting ass students and he as the teacher. He displayed the following image on the projector and without giving the title or providing any background information, asking only the following prompt: “What’s going on in this picture?”
“David Johnson, “View from Garrison, West Point, New York,” 1870, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, gift of Patsy Lacy Griffith by exchange, and General Acquisitions Fund, 2012.6”
The audience responded to the prompt with general responses such as serenity and comparing the image to the Hudson River Valley. After each response Yenawine challenged the individual participant to justify his or her response rather than simply confirming. The discussion was open ended and the audience developed a comfort level with the strategy. There was a sense of security and lack of pressure in that there was no wrong answer as long as an opinion could be supported with evidence. Yenawine concluded his discussion by asking for feedback and offering the following quote about the strategy: “You can’t learn to think unless you are allowed to do it.” The VTS strategy is already differentiated and learners are still active and engaged from their seats, offering natural engagement and scaffolding. The goal of the strategy is to develop critical thinking skills and for students to learn how to think. VTS can easily be adapted in a variety of subject areas, as a “do now”, a closure activity or a longer engagement activity during a lesson.
The workshop I attended in the first session of the day was, Community Engagement: Partnership and Participation led by Mary Liz Stewart a founder of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, in Albany. Mary Liz Stewart began her presentation by displaying the following quote on the projector, “Learn the Past, Be the Present, Create the Future.” She told the group about how her dream of preservation added to the betterment of her community. The Stephen Myers residence in Albany, built in 1847, was restored in 2004 by the organization Stewart and her husband started. She told her audience the story of how she was captivated by the hidden history in her backyard and felt compelled and responsible to share the public history. She expressed the importance of being present within the community, sharing stories of asking and accepting volunteers of all ages that has improved the community and allowed the local youth to engage with a historic site. One example of community engagement was the student derived project to plant heritage gardens reflective of the original blueprint of the Johnson house in the lot adjacent to the Myers residence in Albany. The following is a link to the website associated with the organization and their youth outreach programs: http://undergroundrailroadhistory.org/youth-activities/
The second keynote speaker was Jimmy Karlan, director, Science Teacher Certification, Antioch New England, and senior project manager, Wild Treasures: Sustainability, Naturally, spoke on teaching science using a plot based method, with a talk entitled “Science Education Must Have a Plot!” Karlan compared this method to a PBL (Project Based Learning) strategy, by offering more questions than answers to students. After teaching the audience about this strategy he provided the following handout to breakdown the methodology.
After conveying the strategy Karlan had each table in the multipurpose room create our own plot based science idea, using an assigned grade level, and disciplinary core idea. The table I was seated at was responsible for creating a plot based science idea on energy for grades 3-5. As for someone without a higher education background in science I benefitted from the interactive discussion on how this strategy was adopted into a science curriculum. Upon reflection this strategy could be adapted into a variety of content areas to improve student engagement.
The Advocating for Social Change through Civil Literacy Projects workshop led by the enthusiastic Shira Eve Epstein, author and professor, Dept. of Secondary Education, City University of New York and author of Teaching Civic Literacy Projects: Students Engagement with Social Problem s, Grades 4-12. She discussed her experiences practicing the strategy along with sharing studies of other teachers who also adopted the strategy in their own classrooms. The strategy has three key phases: Phase 1 is problem identification, phase 2 is exploration and research of the selected problem, phase 3 is the action phase where students publicly address the problem seeking to ameliorate it. The idea is for students to choose a public problem or an issue that they feel effected by to address. Students then research and attempt to solve or go through the steps of the Civic Literacy Project model learning more about how to solve the particular problem addressed. The discussion was fascinating in the adaptability of the strategy and the student centered learning focus. The audience brought up the sensitivity of teaching controversial issues in the classroom as they may arise during this learning model. Epstein offered the following book on the subject as a helpful read to teachers who would like more information on teaching controversial or sensitive subjects in the classroom: Controversy in the Classroom by Diana Hess.
My experience this year at THV was overwhelmingly positive in that the information I gained was vast in its subject matter and detailed in their content depth. I enjoyed the variety of course options that allowed me to increase my knowledge that pertained to my individual interests as a future teacher. Locals, professionals, and learners would enjoy this experience and the resources and knowledge it provides.