SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Jonathan Foster, a 2013 Wofford College graduate, has put his experiences in the college’s High Impact Fellows (HIF) program to use as a classroom teacher at James F. Byrnes High School in Spartanburg District 5. Now a first-year doctoral student at the University of Georgia, he says the HIF experience also influenced him to seek his Ph.D. in mathematics education.
The HIF program, supported by a $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations awarded in May 2012, brought faculty from area high schools together with college faculty and students to collaborate in developing classroom-ready materials that reflect current research in academic disciplines.
“I saw first-hand how worthwhile tasks can engage students in reasoning with mathematics,” says Foster of his teaching time at Byrnes, in the same classroom where his HIF teaching partner, Charlene Frazier, had taught during the program. “Ms. Frazier helped me see the value in offering students alternative ways to demonstrate their understanding in contrast to traditional tests.”
Their project was to create alternative assessment projects for Frazier’s Algebra 2 course, a way for students to have another method of demonstrating their understanding of the subject matter. “I came up with the idea of tying personal finance with the goals and standards of Algebra 2, in a project titled ‘Finances and Algebra Two!’” Foster says. “We created four modules and got positive results with them all, getting positive feedback from parents. They liked how we were connecting the content to financial literacy and preparing students to make smarter financial decisions down the road. Also, it created dialogue between parents and students about financial responsibility.
“The creative and research aspects of the program were exciting to me,” Foster says. “I decided to study mathematics education more closely and to research students’ and teachers’ mathematical thinking and learning.”
Foster’s experience exemplifies exactly the kind of relationships and learning the HIF program was designed to create, says Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, coordinator of the program at Wofford. The two-year program was successful both for the student-faculty-teacher teams who worked together on the projects and the teachers and high school students worldwide who are benefiting from the materials that were created.
In less than 24 months, there have been more than 8,200 downloads – from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Frankfurt, Germany, to Seattle, Wash. – of the 29 units produced by the 2012-13 and 2013-14 HIF.
The classroom-ready materials, or units, generated by the teams are available to any individual – worldwide – through the Sandor Teszler Library’s web-based digital archive at http://digitalcommons.wofford.edu/avdproject/.
“The High Impact Fellows is a model for new teaching methods and collaboration,” says Barbas Rhoden, a professor in Wofford’s Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures who helped write the grant. “The program was a form of service-learning for faculty and students. It was about college access and readiness and the everyday challenges for teachers and students. Our professors learned as much as the teachers and students in the partnership.”
She continues: “HIF partnerships provided a variety of benefits. It provided professional development for area teachers by capitalizing on high-impact activities underway on Wofford’s campus, such as study abroad, research experiences and capstone projects. It also presented the opportunity for high school faculty participants to contribute to developing research projects that meet their classroom needs, and Wofford faculty members got the chance to gain a deeper understanding of pedagogy, curricula and standards in secondary schools to better serve incoming college students.”
Dr. Beate U. Brunow, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, points out that the HIF program created a synergy for not only affording Wofford students and faculty the opportunity to work with high school teachers, it allowed them to participate in preparing students for college. “College preparedness is a high priority in the Spartanburg community and throughout the country,” she says. “The High Impact Fellows program is an innovative way of having a major impact on helping high school teachers prepare their students to be ready for college in ways never before available.”
Barbas Rhoden says she and the HIF teams are excited by the ripple effect the program is having, pointing to the worldwide downloads of the units. She notes that “Teaching Gene Regulation in the High School Classroom,” an advance placement biology unit, has been the most downloaded unit. Another popular one is “German in Everyday Culture and Technology,” which emphasizes the use of technology in the classroom.
“Teachers are always asking for ideas on using technology to teach in the classroom,” Brunow points out. “In the German unit, the team developed a walk through Berlin using German maps, learning directions and using the maps to follow them. It worked so well that it’s being used in German 102 here at Wofford. In another German unit, Dr. Kirsten Krick-Aigner uses technology, music and videos in teaching.”
Barbas Rhoden adds, “These are important elements to teaching at the secondary level today, and it’s important for colleges to engage at that level to help make sure students are ready for college and can be successful here.”
At Wofford, the faculty-student HIF teams crossed a number of academic disciplines and included library faculty.
In 2012-13, there were 15 teams representing nine disciplines with teachers from 11 high schools in four counties participating. In 2013-14, there were 14 teams representing 12 disciplines with teachers from nine high schools and three counties. The second year included three teams from Converse College (faculty member plus a student) as well as one Wofford staff member in library science.
Wofford professors involved in the program will present sessions at upcoming conferences:
Dr. Tracie M. Ivy, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Kay Sawyer Savage, associate professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program, will present on “Promoting College Readiness Through Collaborative Development of Inventive Instruction for High School Classrooms” Oct. 15-17 at the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Technology and Learning in Traverse City, Mich.
Brunow and Barbas Rhoden will present on “Developmental Relationship-Building for Civic Challenges: A Team Model” Oct. 20-23 at the University of New Mexico Mentoring Conference on “New Perspectives in Mentoring: A Quest for Leadership Excellence & Innovation” in Albuquerque, N.M.
Also, Barbas Rhoden and Brunow, along with their 2014 summer student research fellow Sydnie Mick, co-authored a scholarly publication, “The Curriculum Fellows Program: A Program Model for Civic Engagement and Collaborative Knowledge Building.” It is under review at a journal on higher education.