Davidson faculty members deserve a share of the acclaim recently given to The Charlotte Teachers Institute (CTI) by The Council for Great City Schools (CGCS). CGCS, which promotes high academic standards in urban public schools, recently gave CTI its Shirley S. Schwartz Urban Education Impact Award.
CGCS said CTI's partnership among Davidson, UNC Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) has had "a positive and significant impact on student learning, and strengthened teaching and learning in CMS by cultivating content knowledge, creativity and leadership skills among CMS teachers."
Davidson faculty members have played a big part in CTI's success.
CTI was founded in 2009 based on an educational enrichment program developed by Yale University and New Haven public schools in 1978. CTI brings faculty members from Davidson and UNC Charlotte together with CMS teachers at all grade levels for seven months of intensive study of a wide variety of subjects. Ann Clark '80, deputy superintendent in CMS, promoted the concept and helped establish it locally. Molly Shaw '02 was CTI's inaugural director.
CTI operates eight seminars per year, employing four faculty members from Davidson and four from UNC Charlotte. CMS teachers, dubbed "Fellows" in the program, apply for enrollment into one of the eight classes offered. Thirteen fellows, representing a variety of grade levels and areas of expertise, are accepted into each seminar.
CTI sessions help fellows further their knowledge of subject areas and develop new teaching strategies and curricula to refresh their enthusiasm for the subject.
Each seminar meets with its faculty leader for two or three sessions near the end of the school year. Fellows then work independently through summer break to research the subject of the seminar. Seminars reconvene in the fall for nine two-hour, once-a-week sessions from September through November, in addition to one-on-one sessions with faculty leaders. Based on their seminar experience, fellows write up a 15-25 page project on the subject for a curriculum unit in their classrooms. The unit typically covers two-to-three weeks of class time. The units will vary based on grade level, its relevance to existing curriculum, or the fellows' interests and expertise. Fellows also strive to write their curriculum units to prepare students for the national Common Core tests in the subject. All projects are posted to a CTI website site so that everyone everywhere can take advantage of the fellows' work.
More than 300 CMS teachers have participated in CTI thus far, producing a total of 412 new curriculum units for more than 60,000 CMS students. In the last cohort, 98 fellows wrote new curricula that will be taught to more than 12,500 CMS students.
Davidson faculty involved for the 2013 seminars were Professor of English Ann Fox leading "Imagining Modern Bodies: Disability and Art," Professor of Chemistry Durwin Striplin leading "Chemical Magic," Associate Professor of Mathematics Tim Chartier leading "Math and Sports," and Armfield Professor of English Brenda Flanagan leading "Urban Encounters: Hispanic and African American Literature."
While most fellows enroll in seminars that apply directly to their areas of expertise, Fox said the educators in her seminar on disability represented an interdisciplinary mix of fellows. The seminar enrolled English teachers, a chemistry teacher who examined the ethics of drug development, a historian, teachers who work with gifted learners, and special education teachers who work with disabled students.
Striplin's seminar in "Chemical Magic" helped fellows assemble and execute demonstrations of the principles of chemistry appropriate to all levels of schooling. "Students and teachers alike get a lot more enthusiastic about science when the class includes live demonstrations," Striplin said.
"Some of the fellows had no experience with live demonstrations, while others were very experienced," Striplin said. "So, we worked on thermite reactions with the high school teachers, while elementary teachers did water changing color and making flash paper."
An important aspect of CTI is its promotion of collegiality among fellows. Striplin began his Thursday evening seminars with dinner in Davidson's Vail Commons. That gave fellows a good opportunity to get acquainted, and discuss the challenges they all face in their public school teaching jobs. After an hour, the class adjourned to the laboratory for two hours of instruction and exploration.
Fox enjoyed serving adult learners. "This is a different type of teaching model," she said. "It's not top-down. We're not here to say ‘I'm the college professor and you're the student.' We're engaged together in intellectual exploration."
Striplin added, "In a time when public education is such a controversial topic, there's a therapeutic value to meeting with peers in an endeavor where they feel supported and valued."
Chartier has taught three seminars for CTI. His "Math & Sports" seminar this time included a rich and interesting cast of guest speakers, including Davidson men's basketball coach Bob McKillop, statistics analysts from the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team and a NASCAR team member.
Though the seminars take up a considerable amount of time, fellows are attracted to participate in CTI by a stipend and continuing education credits. Davidson faculty members also are compensated for their involvement in the program. But Chartier said that his primary motivation is not monetary. "Our job as college teachers is barely comparable to theirs," he said. "They have large numbers of students, not all of whom enjoy being there, and they teach all day. Then they come to CTI sessions because they dream of making the classroom experience better and more engaging for their students. It's inspiring, and it seems only right to help them in that process."
Striplin plans on teaching a CTI seminar titled "The Global Energy Challenge" next session. However, the three veterans on the latest team-Fox, Chartier and Flanagan-will be taking a break. They will be replaced by three first-time CTI Davidson faculty members. Mathematician and computer scientist Raghu Ramanujan will lead "Artificial Intelligence." Philosopher Meghan Griffith will lead "Human Agency," and the English department's Maria Fackler will lead "The Art of Fiction: Close Analysis, Style, and the Novel."
In addition to the seminars for fellows, in 2012 CTI started "Teachers as Scholars," a speaker series through which faculty and fellows present their projects to the public. Last February Flanagan and three fellows in her 2012 seminar presented a program on their study of African American literature during the Civil Rights Movement at the Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte.
Likewise, Chartier and fellows gave a public presentation in October about "Sports by the Numbers" for the flagship speakers series started in 2010 titled "Exploding Canons." They were joined on the panel by Davidson Economics Department Chair Fred Smith and experts from Queens University, UNC Charlotte and the Charlotte Bobcats.
Each CTI seminar concludes with a "Finale Celebration" where fellows and faculty speak briefly about their projects, and express their appreciation for the experience. Like any graduation ceremony, things get emotional. Chartier's fellows wrote a poem in his honor titled "A Mathematician for All Seasons." A member of Striplin's seminar thanked him for putting the fun back in science, and one of Fox's fellows said "I'm taking away from this a new realization of what I can do in my own classroom." Another fellow testified "It's been like Disneyland for nerds!"
In addition to support from the three CTI partner organizations, current funders include The Belk Foundation, Wells Fargo, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation, The Foundation For the Carolinas, Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.