Future teachers study ecosystems from Phoenix to Panama


April 16, 2012

For Lauren Coffey and Whitney Clem, the opportunity to travel to Panama and spend a week learning about rainforest ecosystems was too tempting to pass up. The two student teachers in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College were selected for a scholarship enabling them to learn about similarities and differences of biodiversity in Arizona’s deserts and Panama’s rainforests, and to pass this knowledge along to their students in elementary and middle school classrooms.

In earning the Mary Lou Fulton Science Exchange Scholarship, Clem and Coffey are joining eight K-8 teachers from schools in central Phoenix in a yearlong science education program, Desert to Rainforest. There are an additional 10 in-service teachers who have been selected to participate; those individuals live and teach in Panama. Lauren Coffey Download Full Image

The participating educators share a passion for helping children develop critical thinking skills, science know-how and cultural awareness. Desert to Rainforest will enable them to use powerful new interactive video technology to make connections among middle school students in Phoenix and Panama.

The project is a collaborative initiative of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI), ASU’s School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Teachers College, as well as Audubon Arizona, in collaboration with Phoenix Public School Districts and the Ministry of Education in Panama. Support comes through a Youth Access Grant from the Smithsonian Institution.

The trip to Panama will take place in July. In late March, the Arizona educators spent a day at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in central Phoenix. They worked with ASU scientists and Audubon Arizona staff on topics including identification of local desert flora and fauna. They also began their training with the Vidyo videoconferencing technology, using the video interface to interact and work through a lesson plan being developed as part of the project.

“The video component will enable us to build connections between students in Panama and here in Phoenix,” said Coffey, who currently is student-teaching at Valley View School in the Roosevelt School District, as she completes her degree in elementary education with a Diversity in Language and Learning (DLL) endorsement. “I think this is a great addition to the project because it enables middle school students to learn not only about biodiversity but cultural diversity as well.”

Coffey already has demonstrated a commitment to expanding her knowledge of different cultures. Two years ago she spent a semester studying in Seville, Spain, learning Spanish and studying Spanish history and culture.

Clem, meanwhile, is student-teaching at Edison Elementary School in the Phoenix Elementary School District. She will earn Teachers College’s dual degree that leads to certification in special education and elementary education.

“The first workshop in Phoenix was very productive,” Clem said. “I believe this project, including the upcoming trip to Panama, will help me grow immensely as I begin my teaching career. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn from expert science teachers here in Arizona, as well as visiting a classroom in Panama.”

“Desert to Rainforest emphasizes the development of core curricula that celebrates life in these two rich ecosystems,” said David Pearson, a research professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, who developed the grant with Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College, W. Owen MacMillan, STRI dean of academic programs, and STRI coordinator Nelida Gomez.

“The students living in each of these distinctively different environments will use their personal experiences to understand differences and similarities in the habitats in which they live, and they will bring new knowledge home to share with their families,” Pearson said. “The electronically enhanced communication between students in Panama and Phoenix will be led by teachers who have been trained in critical thinking with an intellectual emphasis on sustainable use of biodiversity and the political and economic importance of cultural diversity.”

“When I become a teacher, I want my students to be exposed to what life is like outside the desert, and teach them to appreciate the unique qualities of the world around them,” Coffey said. “Through Desert to Rainforest, I will gain the knowledge I need to become an advocate for environmental awareness and education.”

The Desert to Rainforest project builds on a strong existing partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Launched in 2010, the collaboration has deepened research opportunities, as well as graduate and undergraduate student training, in biological sciences; critical-thinking; social societies in humans and social insects; sustainability and ecosystem services; genetics and regeneration; culture, language, design and the arts. Central to the project is the creation of innovation in international education reform and a global classroom, research and educational exchanges that extend, virtually and interactively, to bridge international borders, traditional educational and disciplinary boundaries.

Student dives into digital literary publishing


April 16, 2012

With the continuous evolution of the digital world, traditional publications are working to find a niche within new technologies and media. Social networks and mobile devices have become dominant information sources today. Working to redefine the ways in which traditional media have always functioned can be a daunting task.

Arizona State University senior Carrie Grant has created a blog to address, and possibly find solutions for, the digital evolution of one specific group of publications: literary presses. Download Full Image

The Inkless Press is my honors thesis project," Grant said. "It is designed to help literary presses and magazines develop digitally. I post updates about things that are going on in digital development, such as apps and new products, as well as looking at different common issues that literary presses and magazines are having with adopting the digital publishing model.”

Although the number of online literary publications has been increasing, limited resources often lead to a slow growth.

“Literary presses and magazines, I’ve found, are sometimes a bit hesitant with making digital changes, so I’m just a source of news and hopefully some insight,” Grant said. She is not interested in eliminating print publications, but instead encouraging the addition of digital components.

“I don’t think that print is going to go away, but digital is going to become – and perhaps already is – the dominant medium,” Grant says.

Grant, an honors student majoring in English literature and sociology, got the idea for her project during her days as an intern for Superstition Review, an online literary journal run by undergraduate students under the direction of Grant’s thesis director, Patricia Murphy.

“Carrie was our social networking manager," Murphy said. "She ran our blog, Facebook and Twitter. One of the requirements for this position was that the person be incredibly in touch with literary publishing. A lot of students don’t know contemporary literature. Carrie did such an exceptional job. She was always ahead of her time.”

Murphy teaches in the School of Letters and Sciences at the ASU Polytechnic campus. She likes to highlight the campus’ focus on hands-on learning, which is why she started "Superstition Review." The journal provides an opportunity for students to read the works of contemporary authors, interview them, correspond with them, and discuss their submissions. It’s no surprise, then, that when the time came for Grant to choose an honors thesis project, Murphy encouraged her to move beyond the traditional research paper.

“I said if you write a static paper on this and it gets filed on the shelf at Barrett, it’s going to be obsolete pretty much as soon as it’s published. What if this is a living document? What if you put it on a blog?” Murphy recalled.

Grant added: “The blog format allows me to actually participate in the community I'm researching, and it makes my research accessible to its intended beneficiaries in a more direct way than a research paper would.”

She’s noticed some resistance to digital technologies by print publications. “There are some presses and magazines that want to stay print journals, and I think that’s fine, but even if they’re going to stay print, they need to have some digital presence to remain relevant.”

Grant’s work has been well received. She was awarded two research scholarships, and she’s currently working to continue growing her audience and advocating the need for the digitization of literary presses and magazines.

“I’m working to keep a regular schedule of posting and getting myself out there using the same methods I’m encouraging literary presses and magazines to use: trying to gather followers on Twitter, get out there on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. In the digital community, it’s about making connections with other groups online and presses and magazines and digital publishing gurus doing similar things,” she said.

Grant says that most everyone is aware that they have to adapt to digital media. She believes that in 10 years most, if not all, literary presses and magazines will have some digital content.

In terms of personal evolution, Grant believes that the opportunities for educational advancement and research are endless. Identifying a problem and finding the resources to help facilitate these ideas just takes motivation and a little bit of curiosity.

“I always say Arizona State University is a place where opportunities aren’t going to be handed to you, but if you go look for them they are abundant,” Grant said. “For just beginning this project, when I started talking to my thesis director, she said, ‘You need to go to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference.’ So I just booked a ticket and got on a plane to D.C. by myself and went to this big conference. That was really what helped me figure out where I was going with this project, and immersed me completely.”

“I was very happy with the way the project’s form met its function,” Murphy said. “I was also so impressed with the amount of research Carrie did and the way she immersed herself in the field. She knew all the names, all the software, all the organizations. It was really fun for me to share that energy from the beginning of the project.”

The English and sociology programs are both part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Written by Ade Kassim, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Director, Knowledge Enterprise Development

480-965-7260