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2018 Capstone and Honors Thesis Presentations

July 5, 2018

In May 2018, Education Studies concentrators and faculty members gathered to hear the capstone and honors thesis presentations of four graduating seniors.

Eli Beck presented his capstone project, “Mentorship and Goal Orientations at the Met High School (advisor: Professor John Tyler). The Outdoor Leadership Environmental Education Program (OLEEP), Beck reported, is a partnership between Brown University and the MET School, which helps develop high school students’ leadership skills by connecting experiences in the wilderness and in the city. Through OLEEP, Eli led weekly environmental science and environmental justice workshops and co-mentored three MET high school students on creating a climate change documentary, coaching the students on communicating with professionals and developing interview skills. During this experience, Eli reviewed the mentees’ progress through a lens of goal orientations (performance and learning). These orientations could lead to either adaptive achievement behavior (challenge-seeking) or maladaptive achievement (low persistence). Confidence in present ability, Eli found, impacted his mentees’ performance goals, but not their learning goals. When critiquing his mentorship experience, Eli determined that he had prioritized project completion over mentee learning. Because the mentees were inexperienced and had to be coached through each step, such as how to compose a professional email, Eli took on some work himself in order to complete the project. This resulted in the mentees considering the documentary “Eli’s project” instead of their own. The experience, Eli reported, helped him view leadership as a learnable skill, which in this case could have been prioritized over performance.

Ruby Miller-Gootnick presented her honors thesis, “Justice-Oriented Pedagogy: A study of three ‘badass teachers’” (advisor: Professor Andrea Flores), crediting Keith Catone of the Annenburg Institute for working with her to profile teacher advocacy organizations such as the memorably named Badass Teachers Association. Ruby set out to create a mini-portrait of teachers, capturing the complexity of the human experience in a social and cultural context by conveying the perspectives of the people experiencing those experiences, and she focused on three Rhode Island teachers employing three techniques. Justice-oriented pedagogy employs a culturally relevant approach (valuing all student experiences); usage of emancipatory dialogue is empowering to students; and activist pedagogy invokes a call to action and a heightened awareness of injustice and a need to fight it. Love, relationships, and humanity were three key foundations for relationships between teachers and students, and Ruby provided portraits of three successful male teachers she had interviewed and visited and the ways they employ these themes in their classrooms. Ruby’s key takeaways from these mini-portraits of three “badass” teachers were that teacher training should be modified to include social justice; more advocacy and activism is needed in classrooms; and high-stakes testing should be devalued so that students can be evaluated more on portfolios. All three of the teachers were very passionate about teaching and their students, Ruby reported, which make for very sustaining teaching models. She also noted that activism outside of the classroom led to an increase of agency inside the classroom, which was empowering to the teachers and students alike.

Christopher Monschauer introduced his honors thesis, “Secondary Mathematics Teachers’ Use of Representations” (advisor: Professor Matthew Kraft), by handing out graphs, charts, and a written article that, while appearing completely different, all conveyed information on a gubernatorial election, tailored to specific audiences. Representations, Chris reported, are objects that convey a mathematical idea; they offer entry points to mathematical understanding. How can teachers use and prioritize them? Chris had studied one public and one private school via interviews, observations, and artifact collection. In context, students at both schools exhibited various skill gaps, so each teacher made math accessible to their classrooms in a different way (while adhering to external forces such as the AP exams and state curriculum). For students to master key skills, math teachers have to teach using sequencing, ensuring that students understand what something means before they can progress to the next level. Motivation was key, Chris found; teachers seemed to be more confident and students more successful when it was communicated why students need to know mathematics and how math can be used. Micro decisions by each teacher, Chris observed, can impact a lesson and what students get out of it. A different representation for each context appeared to help students learn best. In summary, Chris found, teachers need to make mathematics both meaningful and accessible to their students.

Natalie Zeif presented her honors thesis, “Sexuality and School Work in South Florida: Anita Bryant’s 1977 Save Our Children Movement” (advisor: Professor Tracy Steffes) beginning with background on the 1977 anti-queer teaching movement in South Florida that victimized teachers in order to repeal a recent ordinance gay citizens from discrimination. Churchgoer Anita Bryant, a popular singer, used her celebrity to appoint herself an “authority” on child protectionism, and teachers and students were used as pawns in the resulting “Save Our Children” anti-LGBT agenda. Natalie traveled to South Florida with the help of a Pembroke grant, studying secondary sources from literature to documentary films to determine how divine rights had trumped political rights and how parental rights had trumped the right of education during the movement. Gay teachers were considered “pollution” and a risk to students, thought to be hypersexual and/or recruiting students into their sexual orientation, and the campaign stated that LGBT teachers had no right to be teachers. Churches leveraged credibility to that idea, unleashing homophobia upon South Florida to the extent that, once the protection ordinance was repealed, an equal rights bill did not pass in South Florida for more than 20 years. Bryant’s movement, Natalie noted, revealed the persistence of norms that subjugated marginalized groups.