Reignition

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
Strong gets stronger when faculty members take advantage of theSchool’s ongoing and staunch support of professional development.
Strong gets stronger when faculty members take advantage of the School’s ongoing and staunch support of professional development. From conferences to graduate programs to sabbaticals—summer or year-long—teachers of every age and experience benefit:  Younger ones gain confidence and skills, and mid-level and senior faculty are rejuvenated, often broadening the scope of their intellectual enthusiasm and deepening their passions. While it may fall under the heading “Benefits,” thereby appearing to be a noun, professional development is actually a verb, for what it does to the life of the classroom, studio, and laboratory and what it does for Thacher students.

Those faculty taking advantage this summer:

Steve Carter, Art Teacher
In August, I very much enjoyed spending a fortnight in London attending a class in Life Painting at The Slade School of Fine Art, part of University College - London.  The course was everything I had hoped it would be with excellent tutoring and an international group of participants.  The Slade has been at the center of British painting beginning with the influence of William Coldstream who, following the second World War, became known as the prime minster of British art for his influence on art education throughout England.  For years I have been keenly interested in the London painters that matured during the second half of the 20th century: painters like Euan Uglow, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud.  It was amazing painting in the same studios where these artists worked both as students and teachers.   For me, probably the most valuable part of the course was the presentation of a series of pallets (color schemes) that were both subtle and logical.  I know my students will benefit from what I learned about helpful measuring systems for drawing and a unified color system for laying out their pallets.

Toby Elmore, History Teacher
This past summer I took two classes in Reed College's Master of Arts and Liberal Studies Program: Shakespeare in Film and Religion and Media.  They were both extremely valuable despite the fact that the content I studied is not directly relevant to the material I am currently teaching.  The Shakespeare course gave me great insight into an author studied in great depth here at Thacher, and will allow me to communicate with my peers in the English Department and with students in a much more enlightened way.  The religion course introduced me to a number of incredible authors to whom I had not before been exposed.  In addition, I did a good deal of writing, which greatly helped my ability to assess and discuss student papers more thoughtfully. As a result of my work this summer, we have added a small section on the Frankfurt School philosophers/social critics in the Sophomore History course: we have them reading Walter Benjamin's theories on history and his essay on Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction, literature that is quite advanced but with language that is as beautiful as it is complex.  This is a tangible shift in the classroom for me as a result of this summer (beyond my general feeling of being smarter and loving Shakespeare/Shakespearean film).  

Heather Grant, Science Teacher

During the summer of 2008, I took Geology of the Yellowstone Volcanic Center at Montana State University in Bozeman.  The course allowed me to enter the classroom as a student, rekindling my enthusiasm for learning and reminding me of the perspective of my students.  This course is part of the Masters of Science in Science Education degree program, attracting science educators from across the country for online courses year round and summer courses on the MSU campus.  I was interested in taking this course in order to get back in the classroom, to look into the MSSE program, and to improve the scope of my science content background.  It was a great opportunity to learn from other teachers about their best practices and the general scope of experience as educators in myriad teaching settings.  Professor Jim Schmidt did a wonderful job presenting the material to a huge range of students--complete geology beginners to those who had previously earned masters degrees in geology.  My only prior exposure to geology was in the form of oceanography courses and I loved learning more about the basis for volcanic activity.  After three full days of lecture in the classroom, we spent the last two days in Yellowstone National Park.  This was my first visit to the Park and to visit with an expert geologist was quite a treat.  In addition to learning a great deal about volcanism and adding a number of new real world applications for topics I teach in chemistry and biology, I experienced the power of standing and seeing with my own eyes the landforms we had discussed in class.  The academic topics of hot spots (plumes of molten magma originating from the core-mantle boundary) remaining relatively stationary below migrating tectonic plate gained an entirely more powerful impact when I was able to see the scope of its influence, from the Old Faithful geysers to spattering mud pots to smoking fumaroles.  This course has made me enthusiastic about pursuing my M.A. degree through this program in the coming years.     

Peter Fagan, Mathematics Teacher

I took a week long course for AP Statistics using Fathon Software at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, GA. I have already integrated the software into my stats class and in my Math IV course. I am giving the students more independent projects using the program as a statistical tool.

Jeff Hooper, History and Spanish Teacher

The School's generosity took me to Oaxaca, Mexico, for some Spanish speaking, culture imbibing, and most directly, culinary learning. Oaxaca is the capital of one of Mexico's poorest and most indigenous states, but it is extraordinarily rich in culture, tradition, and food. It's called the "Land of the Seven Moles" and although my classes didn't cover all seven, I did learn quite a bit about cooking Mexican (or more precisely Oaxacan) food. My favorite of the moles also has the best name: Manchamanteles (tablecloth-stainer). We also got to sample some exotic fare, including chapulines (boiled grasshoppers with lime and chile), ant eggs, huitlacoche (corn fungus), and gusanos (worms). Every year in both Spanish I and AP Spanish, we research Mexican food traditions, plan shopping lists and menus, and head to the Commons kitchen to try our hands in the kitchen. So, in addition to sharpening my language skills and deepening my appreciation for the marvelous country to our south, I developed some tools to make that lesson a little richer.

Bonnie LaForge, Assistant Librarian
I am taking online courses year-round as I work towards my Master of Library and Information Science degree from San Jose State University, CA. This past school year and summer I was able to complete three more classes. The best part of taking these classes is that I can immediately use the information and ideas in my workplace here in the Thacher Library. I'm currently taking two classes this semester, one in cataloging and one in Young Adult Resources.

John Lin, English Teacher
I attended a one-day advanced casting clinic given by Orvis at their flagship store in Manchester, VT, to learn the Orvis method of modern casting techniques as taught by Truel Myers, Head Fly-Fishing Instructor for the Orvis Fly-Fishing Schools, and another guide. We spent most of the morning casting on the lawn and being videotaped. This humbling experience was followed by actual casting on the pond next to the store. No fish were harmed or otherwise involved in any of this, though giant specimens could be seen swimming languidly about under our fly-less leaders. We worked on many different kinds of casts, but mainly we concentrated on understanding the physics of the casting stroke and optimizing our own casts.

I have taught fly casting to students for several years now, once formally in a classroom setting for my "Fly Fishing and Literature" elective class, which I taught in the spring of 2007 and otherwise on many EDT's (Extra Day—that is, camping—Trips). I try to organize my EDT's to offer access to fly fishing and have helped Camp Supply procure enough fly fishing equipment to outfit an entire EDT group. Over the past three years, many backcountry trout in the Sierra have been caught and released by Thacher students, who first learned this life-long sport here. In fact, I just received a text-message from two students who took my fly fishing class letting me know that they were together, fly fishing, and thinking of our time together! Being able to spend a moment attending to my own casting will make me a much more articulate and thoughtful guide in the future.

Wei-Ying Lin, Chinese Teacher
This summer I returned to Middlebury College in pursuit of my master’s degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. This is the second summer of the four required for the degree. In one, I studied the major language teaching methods such as the Audio-lingual Method (ALM), Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response, Suggestopedia, the Silent Way, and the Communicative Approach method with Professor Cecilia Chang of Williams College. We were asked to design lesson plans for the various methods and conduct demo teaching sessions with our classmates—all experienced Chinese language teachers—as the critics. For the final project, I designed a one-month-long lesson plan incorporating a number of methods for a new unit that I will be teaching in Chinese I this fall. My second course, Advanced Chinese Material Preparation, focused on materials suitable for advanced Chinese learners (fourth year of study or beyond) and analyzed the difficulties that these students face when they reach the learning plateau. My final project was to design a yearlong course syllabus and materials for AP Chinese, which I am planning to teach next fall. My last course, Social Changes in Contemporary Chinese Literature, provided me an opportunity to study the current social issues in China through the lens of literary works published after 2000. I also had the pleasure of writing a short novel and a number of analytical papers. It was a treat for me to trade language drills for longer writing assignments. The class also helped me acquire an objective view to contemporary Chinese society. This summer was again an extremely productive and busy summer, and I left Middlebury with new ideas for my classes at Thacher. I am already looking forward to returning to Vermont for my third summer, during which I will start writing a thesis or building a teaching portfolio.

Elizabeth Reynolds Mahoney CdeP 1988, Studio Art and Photography Teacher
In June I spent two weeks at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, painting and meeting with top contemporary artists of today. The art world changes constantly and is certainly different than when I was in art school: I learned how the new ideas or methods of art and art criticism have changed and how they pertain to kids today—things as simple as how color theory now addresses the colors of a computer screen and how that translates to painting colors.  Having taken this course, I address current ideas of contemporary art more in class—ideas of context and appropriation, for example.  Of course, immersing myself in art again brings new energy to looking at how to do the same with my students.

Bo Manson, English Teacher

My course at The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, in Rockport, Maine, focused on designing sculptural furniture.  Through sketching, drawing (both 2-point and 3-point perspective) and modeling, we explored ways to develop creative, free form objects that function as both art and furniture.  We also studied various techniques for crafting sculptural pieces: primarily steam bending and bent lamination.  This year in Wood Design, we have incorporated models in 1/4 scale and mock-ups in full scale to work out various design elements.  The students spent the first five weeks, drawing, drafting, modeling and creating mock-ups in different materials (including cardboard, MDF board, and scrap plywood).  The additional time spent designing the projects has generated more creative pieces and has helped to introduce elements of accuracy and craftsmanship before the students actually begin working with the wood they have selected for their pieces of furniture.

Bill Omansiek, Upper School Dorm Head

In my search for new methods to be a more effective advisor and to help me with my adjustment to becoming the Dorm Head for Upper School, I traveled to the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to attend The Stanley King Counseling Institute.  This annual week-long workshop was quite an amazing experience.  Sixty independent-school teachers from around the country gathered to learn counseling methods that are meant not only to strengthen our skills as advisors but to also create deeper connections with the students we work with every day. The many lessons I learned in my week in Colorado from some amazing counselors will definitely play a huge role for me as I continue to advise and work with students.  It was a tremendously valuable experience.

Cecilia Ortiz, Spanish Teacher
This summer I went to Sanlucar de Barrameda, in Spain. I studied some of the best Spanish novels published in 2007 and specifically looked for short novels that could be used in our advanced classes. I was also involved in preparing a course for Spanish 3, which I have taught for 20 years, with the same language objectives as before but with a new approach and material. I usually change the materials every 2 years and this summer was a great opportunity to develop new curriculum materials. The new program is based on develloping language skills, using films to engage the students.

I am currently using the program that I created, which is based on using films to develope language skills, and at the moment I think it has been very successful. The students are more engaged in participating in the class, express their opinion in longer pieces of information, are learning about the culture and history of the countries presented in the movies with a broader view than just information in a vacuum.

Derick Perry, English Teacher
This past summer I completed the on-site portion of Columbia University’s Klingenstein Center’s Private School Leadership program. This summer's classes focused on the practical uses of some of the theoretical work we did last summer. In addition, we completed a personal philosophy of education based on the work of John Dewey. This program has been influential on my teaching, and it will be useful for years to come in honing of my craft.

Peter Sawyer, Science Teacher

This was my third year grading Biology AP Exams for the College Board: 51 hours of grading over seven days.  While the actual grading is hard, tedious work (each reader grades an average of 1500 exams - all the same question), I find that it is very beneficial in terms of separating good from poor answers to the AP Biology Free Response questions.  This helps me mentor Thacher students in ways to maximize their scores on the exam.  It also helps me to prioritize these topics as we are covering our curriculum. I also find the experience of spending a week with college biology professors and other AP Biology teachers invaluable.  When we are not hunched over stacks of AP Exams, we are able to discuss achievement, assessment, and teaching strategies. I always come away with a reaffirmation of my own course, a better understanding of biology, and a couple of really good ideas for activities that I can use in my own classroom.

I also spent nearly a month at The Exploratorium Teacher Institute in San Francisco, whose mission is to help teachers bring more hands-on activities into the classroom.  As a teacher who has spent the majority of his career teaching life sciences, I find physics to be particularly challenging.  While in many ways the amount of time and energy that physics activities take to set up and take down is far less than life science activities, I did not always have the inventory of activities or the experience in their use that I have in the life sciences.  Through the Institute, in addition to having my own understanding of physics refreshed (our concentration was on perception, light, color, optics, sound, electricity, and magnetism), I gained a greater confidence in my ability to teach the subject, and I had the opportunity to produce demonstrations and explore activities—all aimed towards making me a more effective teacher. Bottom line: I am using the resources that were made available to me on a regular basis during the Institute to bring more hands-on inquiry activities into Thacher’s physics curriculum.



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