Celebrating Breakthrough Teaching at UC San Diego

Teachers discover new digital tools to support student motivation and engagement at the 2017 EDS/CREATE Teaching and Learning Conference Mar. 11.

Teaching broadcast journalism to elementary students. Teacher-friendly computer science instruction. New ways of promoting social justice in schools. Breakthrough teaching practices were the focus of the fourth annual teaching and learning conference hosted by UC San Diego’s Department of Education Studies (EDS) and the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE).

Nearly 300 local TK-16 (Transition Kindergarten through college) educators attended the all-day conference March 11 at Pepper Canyon Hall that featured 21 sessions on new practices in teaching. Presentations focused on learning approaches for grades TK-16 in science, math, English language arts, engineering, robotics, computer science, English language development and technology integration. Additional sessions this year addressed student social and academic supports, personalized learning, and techniques for critical social/political conversations within K-12 classrooms.

Called “Breakthrough Teaching for Student Success,” the conference celebrated classroom teaching innovations. Attendees expressed appreciation for “hands-on, experiential sessions” that could have immediate positive impact in their classrooms.

“We were delighted that close to 300 San Diego County teachers gathered this Saturday to celebrate public education,” said Alan J. Daly, professor and chair of EDS. “Educators attended a variety of very powerful sessions that created opportunities for learning, exploration, and interaction. It was an invigorating event for all who attended and it reminded all of us of the power of creating and supporting community.”

The conference is an annual collaboration between EDS and CREATE, two campus entities that work closely with teachers and school districts throughout the region. This year’s event was organized by Carolyn Hofstetter, EDS associate teaching professor, Susan Yonezawa, CREATE associate director, and Rachel Millstone, EDS lecturer, secondary credential coordinator and science supervisor, with help from staff across CREATE and EDS.

“The EDS/CREATE Teaching and Learning Conference has always highlighted teaching innovation in San Diego and throughout the county. This year in particular we wanted to celebrate the importance of education — particularly public education — and all the great work San Diego teachers are doing for students,” Hofstetter said.

“Breakthrough teaching goes beyond what we do now in the classroom. We hand-picked presenters who are engaged in visionary thinking about where we want kids to be and can scaffold this thinking by sharing it with the larger education community,” Hofstetter added.

Many UC San Diego undergraduate and graduate students, including those from the EDS Masters in Teaching Program, attended the conference to enhance their teaching practices.

After inspiring welcome remarks from the conference organizers, and Professor Daly and Mica Pollock, EDS professor and director of CREATE, attendees set off to explore sessions led by 44 local educational practitioners representing a wide variety of positions in the region. This year’s session leaders included EDS and CREATE faculty and staff, NSF-funded master teachers in UC San Diego’s Noyce programs, and current UC San Diego doctoral students. Additionally, former UC San Diego students, intermediary organization leaders, teachers from districts throughout the county, and students from local high schools helped lead sessions.

Conference attendees selected up to three sessions from the 21 sessions offered. Here is a sampling.

Molly Wilken, a math teacher at Kearny High School, co-led a session on literacy in mathematics.

Using Literacy as a Tool to Uncover Mathematical Thinking

Two teachers from Kearny High school, Molly Wilken, a mathematics teacher, and Beth Smith, an English Arts and Language teacher, have co-designed ways to incorporate literacy skills in teaching the Standards for Mathematical Practice in math classes. A sample project was presented to show teachers how cross-curriculum strategies can bolster student understanding.

After attending the session, Assistant Director and math department leader at Gompers Preparatory Academy John Bartholomew said, “I walked away with useful curriculum resources, including free, online materials, which I know are important to math teachers at GPA. More importantly, I was reminded of the importance of literacy development within Common Core math instruction. I learned some new ways to foster that.”

During the conference welcome, Drs. Daly and Yonezawa, pictured here, referenced Mica Pollock’s newly published book “Schooltalk.” With four new teachers from the EDS program, Pollock facilitated a session on the importance of teacher-student communication, particularly in the current post-election environment.

Schooltalk: Promoting Community and Social Justice in Schools in Turbulent Times

“Talk in schools shapes young peoples’ lives. And it’s an underused lever for equity,” stated Mica Pollock, EDS professor and director of CREATE, to start this session. “Today, we want to redesign Life Talk – to consider how we could make it more routine, not rare, to invite dialogue with students about their ongoing life experiences.” Pollock, along with three new EDS secondary teachers, considered the pros and cons of specific methods of inviting “Life Talk” into classrooms through assignments and class discussions, particularly after the 2016 election. A lively discussion engaged attendees in discussing their own post-election classroom experiences and concerns.

Monique Wood, a computer science and AVID Excel teacher at Montgomery Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District, said her favorite moment of the conference was “the quote Mica Pollock left us with: ‘There is no more important time to be a teacher than now.’ It made an impact because it summed up how we feel,” Wood said. “We care about our students, we don’t want to seem partisan, we have to take into consideration parent values, student values and the values of the organization you work for, and student needs. The academic journey is crucial for students; we have to grab them and keep them engaged before we lose them, [in order] to get them through the rest of their academic career,” she added.

Judy Caraang, a Learning Experience Designer for grades 2-5 at Design39Campus, observes teachers working on a Design Thinking activity.

Hacking Elementary
Judy Caraang and Mindy Ahrens, Design Thinking and Project Based Learning teachers from Design39Campus in the Poway Unified School District, guided “Hacking Elementary” session attendees through a series of short activities to build new ways for students to “problem find,” a skill set valuable in and out of the classroom. The session focused on design thinking and ways to stretch student thinking by developing empathy, observation, defining, and prototyping mindsets in the classroom.

Although the session was billed for K-5 teachers, “’Hacking Elementary’ is really for all ages, even adults,” Caraang said. “Our presentation today focused on how photos build observation skills. Teachers were given a photo of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and asked, ‘what do you notice?’ and we let them dig in.  It leads to an ‘I notice, I think, I wonder’ mindset.  How do we build a mindset for problem seeking and problem solving?” Caraang asked. “If students can get this mindset in these little chunks, they can implement it for solving a variety of problems. . . What does this show, what doesn’t it show, where can I find more information?”

Want to learn more about this year’s breakthrough sessions and presenters? Conference presentation overviews are here and session leader information, including contact information, is here. Would you like to be part of next year’s event?  Contact Susan Yonezawa at create@ucsd.edu.