Education college blends research, teacher preparation

May 18, 2010

One of the nation’s largest and most influential colleges of education has a new name and an expanded scope. Effective May 14, Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership is now the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In addition to preparing outstanding teachers and school leaders to benefit communities in metropolitan Phoenix and across Arizona, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College will house professors who engage in theoretical as well as use-inspired research and who mentor future higher education administrators and faculty members, policy makers, and leaders in educational technology. Download Full Image

The college assumed responsibility in 2009 for all PreK-12 teacher preparation programs on all four ASU campuses. The newly renamed college, with its increased focus on educational research, will continue to be headquartered on ASU’s West campus.

“As one of the largest public universities in the country, ASU has a special responsibility to be at the forefront of preparing effective PreK-12 teachers and leaders, and to impact education from preschool through higher education,” said Mari Koerner, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“With this broadened focus comes an increased ability to utilize faculty expertise to better serve students and the community. Collaborative faculty endeavors to meet the needs of our evolving curriculum will take place not only within the college but with other colleges across ASU.”

The college recently recruited faculty member Lee Hartwell, a Nobel Prize winner, to collaborate with colleagues on strategies to bolster science education. He is developing a signature science course that will be part of the curriculum for all Teachers College students in elementary education programs. Hartwell also will hold faculty appointments in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering; he will co-direct the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

Other world-class ASU scientists involved with Teachers College projects include Lawrence Krauss, who is working collaboratively to develop an Origins curriculum for middle schools, and Kip Hodges, who is extending his work in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and his relationships with NASA to create summer school programs. Krauss and Hodges are professors in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College will be strongly committed to maintaining and enhancing national rankings for graduate programs in education, Koerner said. Recently those programs were ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the nation’s best for the 11th consecutive year. ASU graduate education programs were positioned 25th among public graduate schools of education and 36th among all public and private graduate programs, tied with Cornell University.

This fall, the Teachers College will introduce a new graduate program, a concentration in accomplished teaching within its master’s degree program in curriculum and instruction. The concentration enables working teachers to complete a master’s degree while they work to meet the rigorous requirements for National Board Certification. Research has documented that National Board Certification has a positive impact on student achievement, teacher retention and professional development. Professor Elaine Surbeck and faculty colleagues are working with community partners including the Arizona K12 Center, which will provide scholarship support to teachers from low-income schools wishing to pursue the degree. The college also is collaborating with Phoenix’s Isaac School District, whose student population is 94 percent Hispanic, to recruit teachers to participate in a research project linked to the new master’s concentration.

“Under the dynamic leadership of Dean Koerner, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College will serve as a national model for how university colleges of education can serve as a force for innovation in a rapidly evolving world,” said Elizabeth D. Capaldi, university provost and executive vice president. “The college already enjoys an enviable reputation for establishing creative partnerships with school districts, community organizations, government agencies and private donors to bring about meaningful change in the field of education. The new Teachers College will work collaboratively with the faculty in engineering and liberal arts and sciences to further develop learning theory and apply those theories to produce better teaching and better teachers.”

In 1999, the college worked in partnership with Phoenix’s Osborn Elementary School District to establish the Professional Development School (PDS) program, an intensive, innovative teacher preparation program that immerses future teachers in the school setting in high-need districts. Today the program spans the state, from Yuma to Chinle to Douglas, and across metropolitan Phoenix. In 2009 the U.S. Department of Education awarded ASU a five-year, $33.8 million grant enabling the Teachers College to work with more partner districts, while also collaborating with new and existing partner districts to implement comprehensive school reform and full-range professional development including a two-year induction program for new teachers.

The federal grant also enables the Teachers College to work in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to provide high-quality content area instruction to future high school teachers and those planning to teach younger pupils. The project will train students in pedagogies designed to develop literacy in English, history, and languages.

Private donors as well as government agencies have stepped forward to work with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Last January, entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford made a gift of $18.85 million to the college, enabling it to launch an unprecedented partnership with Teach For America (TFA). Through the Sanford Education Project, the Teachers College will adapt TFA’s most successful tools in order to attract, prepare, support and retain larger numbers of highly effective teachers.

This initiative expands the working relationship between the college and TFA that began in 2007. Hundreds of TFA corps members, outstanding recent college graduates from a wide range of disciplines who are chosen through a competitive selection process, teach in high-need Arizona schools while pursuing master’s degrees in education through the Teachers College. The partnership expanded in 2008, when the college began hosting TFA’s Phoenix training institute.

“Some colleges of education are reluctant to work with TFA because it takes a non-traditional route to teaching and most of its recruits are not graduates of education schools,” Koerner said. “But we choose to embrace all ideas and initiatives that can help us produce great teachers.”

“The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has a proven track record of taking bold steps to improve public education at all levels, and it is now positioned to make even greater strides in pursuit of this goal,” Capaldi said.

ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is named for Arizona native Mary Lou Fulton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education from ASU in 1975. She and her husband Ira, founder of Fulton Homes, have been extraordinarily generous supporters of the university.

More information about the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and its programs may be found at">">

Geographical models bring new perspective to archaeology

May 18, 2010

Computational modeling techniques provide new and vast opportunities to the field of archaeology. By using these techniques, archeologists can develop alternative computerized scenarios that can be compared with traditional archaeological records, possibly enhancing previous findings of how humans and the environment interact.

An article published in the April 2010 issue of the journal American Antiquity by researchers at Arizona State University and North Carolina State University describes the use of computational modeling to study the long-term effects of varying land use practices by farmers and herders on landscapes. It compares the results with the Levantine Neolithic archaeological record, which preserves a record of the long-term socioecology of subsistence farming. Download Full Image

“Using computational modeling is a new approach in the field of archaeology. Archaeology is known for learning about the past, but these methods can help us predict the future,” said Michael Barton, co-author and co-director of ASU’s Center">">Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity.

“Computational Modeling and Neolithic Socioecological Dynamics: A Case Study from Southwest Asia” demonstrates how new modeling techniques are used to simulate different land use practices such as intensive farming, shifting cultivation (also called swidden or slash-and-burn) and grazing to determine long-term effects on landscapes. The research models land use in the Wadi Ziqlab drainage of northern Jordan, an area where ancient Neolithic inhabitants cultivated cereals (wheat and barley), pulses (lentils and chickpeas), herded sheep and goats and raised domestic pigs 8,000 years ago.

Intensive farming is where a plot of land is cleared of shrubs and trees and used year after year. Shifting cultivation is where new land is cleared every few years, but only farmed for a few years before it is abandoned. Abandoned, or fallowed, land regains its fertility as the natural vegetation regrows so that it can be farmed again in the future.

“One of the more interesting findings from our study was that a combination of shifting cultivation and grazing results in more erosion run off, but that run off actually makes the farmland around tiny hamlets more fertile,” said Barton, who is also a professor in ASU’s School">">School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College">">College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

However, Barton notes that the same kinds of land use will cause increasing degradation and loss of productive farmland around larger villages.

Numerous simulation experiments were conducted to identify long-term landscape and land use dynamics. Researchers used the Geographic Resource Analysis and Support System, an open-source, general purpose geographic information system to combine detailed maps of topography, soils, vegetation and regional climate to model the consequences of different forms of land use.

Most experiments spanned land usage over a 40-year period and a few extended over a 200-year period. Experiments were also conducted where there were no inhabitants to separate landscape changes over time due to natural influences from the effects of human activities. 

“We’re filling in the gaps in the archaeological record,” said Isaac Ullah, co-author and ASU research assistant. “We are finding ways to make archaeology applicable to what we are doing today and possibly impact future policy decisions.” 

Ullah added that by creating these models and combining them with archaeological data we are also learning about the origins of the vegetation typical of the Mediterranean today. This allows us to achieve a series of vegetation profiles that provide a model of long-term landscape dynamics that cannot be seen using traditional archaeological techniques.

The experiments for this study go one step further than other geographic information system modeling projects by exploring human decision-making.

Helena Mitasova, co-author and an associate professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University assisted with the development of the soil erosion model that was used to determine how ancient societies land use practices impacted the landscape evolution.

She said that geospatial simulations allow them to better understand the relationship between the development of prehistoric settlements and landscape evolution, especially the consequences of agricultural practices that could degrade land well beyond the settlements and have broad long-term effects on entire landscapes.

“We can explore various hypotheses on how the communities interacted with their land and how they managed it,” said Mitasova. “Although soil erosion is a natural process, through the models we are able to investigate the contribution of different agricultural practices used by prehistoric societies to land degradation and how it influenced the evolution of these communities.”

“The research shows the importance of threshold effects when people alter landscapes for agriculture. Land use practices that are beneficial in one context can be very harmful in a different context,” said Barton.

Barton added as communities grew, they passed a threshold where farming practices that once increased yields began to cause soil loss. Faced with declining productivity, farmers were forced to make decisions, either to return to the small hamlets, choose herding over farming, or invest more labor in their fields in the form of terraces, diversion dams or new forms of cropping. All of these solutions can be found in the archaeological record of the ancient Near East.

The study was the first of several funded by the National Science Foundation’s Biocomplexity in the Environment Program. Similar experiments spanning different time periods and different locations are also planned.

Scott Southward,