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Study reveals ‘digital divide’ among state’s middle schoolers

 GAINESVILLE, Fla.—A new achievement gap is developing among Florida middle-school students based on their access to technology and whether they understand how to use it, according to University of Florida education researchers. 

They say this “digital divide” is rooted in how students’ socioeconomic status, gender and ethnic background affect their computer savvy. 

Albert Ritzhaupt

Albert Ritzhaupt

UF education technology researchers Albert Ritzhaupt and Kara Dawson, and colleagues from the American Institutes for Research and the University of South Florida, investigated the growing digital divide among almost 6,000 middle school students from 13 school districts in the state. Their findings were reported recently in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 

The researchers evaluated the students’ computer skills and also found that their interaction with technology “wasn’t all that equitable.” 

“Students and professionals have to increasingly operate in a digital world,” said Ritzhaupt, co-principal investigator and lead author of the research report. “This body of knowledge and skill has touched virtually every sector of the economy, and we have a responsibility in public education to prepare students to enter this workforce.” 

Kara Dawson

Kara Dawson

To identify potential discrepancies among the students, the researchers determined three characteristics that could form a digital divide: access to technology and the Internet in their schools, how and how often they used the technology in the classroom, and their computer skill levels.

The researchers then administered a performance-based exam in a simulated software environment. Some questions asked students to search the Internet for relevant information, requiring knowledge of what search terms to use, how to discriminate between credible and relevant findings, and how to apply this information to their assignments. The skills tested are based on the 2008 National Educational Technology Standards for Students. 

The study revealed that students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds performed poorer than the more affluent students. Non-white students also scored lower. However, females outperformed males, which Ritzhaupt said is inconsistent with previous findings. 

“The problem is that one of the things the state is pushing is digital learning and computer-based state testing, and our schools aren’t ready for this,” Ritzhaupt said. “Students need more technical support, more training and more resources.” 

Ritzhaupt said it will take more than money to narrow this technology divide. He said schools can build relationships with community partners to get resources, provide professional development to teachers, and support students in raising their technology acumen. 

Schools can transform into community centers to share knowledge and access to others in the community, he said, and district administrators can provide incentives to teachers who integrate meaningful digital lessons into their classrooms and schools. 

“There are many things that can be done, but we have to first acknowledge that a serious problem exists,” Ritzhaupt said.

SOURCE: Albert Ritzhaupt, associate professor, education technology, UF College of Education, 352-273-4180
WRITER: Alexa Lopez, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449
MEDIA CONTACT: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137


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ESOL ed alumnus named ‘Top 40 Innovator’ in digital education

College of education alumnus James May uses classroom technology to teach his ESOL students at Valencia College. Photo by Don Burlinson, Valencia College

UF College of Education alumnus and professor James May, second from left, uses classroom technology to teach his ESOL students at Valencia College. (Photo by Don Burlinson, Valencia College)

James May, a “double EduGator” with two advanced degrees from UF’s College of Education, was named one of this year’s Top 40 Innovators in Education by the national Center for Digital Education. 

The center is a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy and funding. 

May earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature in 1993, his Master of Education in ESOL curriculum and instruction in 1999, and his doctorate in teaching and learning in 2007, all from the University of Florida. 

He currently is a professor of English as a second language at Valencia College in Orlando, where he has pioneered the use of cell phones and computer-assisted learning in his classes. He is also the faculty fellow for innovation and technology at the college. 

“We live in a world where just about everything that is known can be found by way of a quick Google or YouTube search,” May said. “Teachers who aren’t willing to embrace this digital reality are robbing future generations of what we could know tomorrow. Learning has become on-demand or just-in-time and our teaching methods should to adapt to this truth.” 

For May, there is no one technology that serves as “the solution.” Instead, technologies like smart phones, Google Goggles, QR codes and Evernote (a note-taking and archiving app) provide him and his students with more efficient and engaging strategies that can be used to identify solutions to authentic problems. 

“This technology allows me to model life-long learning strategies that students can use long after they have forgotten about me,” May said. 

For example, May teaches his students how to use Google Chrome to perform voice, image and text searches and how Google Drive could be used for collaborating learning and writing. 

“Professor May’s success stems from pushing boundaries and engaging both faculty and students through various technologies and innovative digital and communications strategies,” a Center for Digital Education spokesperson said. 

To watch May in action, follow this link for a video by Valencia College. 

May has been recognized in the past for his “eclectic” teaching strategies and use of technology in the classroom. In 2010, he was named the Association of Florida College’s Professor of the Year, and in 2011 he was selected as the CASE/Carnegie Foundation’s Florida Professor of the Year. In 2012, he won the Sloan Consortium Effective Practice Award for his presentation, “Cellphones in the Classroom: Collaborative or Calamitous?”

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PhD candidate in elite company after winning national honor for aiding exceptional children


Crystal Crowe Bishop, a University of Florida doctoral candidate in special education, joined some illustrious company with College of Education ties after receiving the 2013 J. David Sexton Doctoral Student Award from the Division for Early Childhood of the international Council for Exceptional Children.

Bishop joins a growing line of UF EduGators who have previously received the annual Sexton honor, which recognizes a doctoral student who has made significant contributions to young children with special needs and their families through research, higher education, publications, policy, and information dissemination. The award is named for J. David Sexton, who was a revered mentor and leader in the field of early intervention and early childhood special education.

Previous Sexton award recipients with links to UF’s nationally-ranked special education program include alumna Tara McLaughlin (honored in 2010), who now works as a senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand; alumnus Brian Boyd (2004), now on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty; and Patricia Snyder (1991), director of the Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies who holds the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies. Snyder is Bishop’s doctoral adviser and also studied under Sexton while pursuing her own Ph.D. degree at the University of New Orleans.

The Council for Exceptional Children, which sponsors the award, is the world’s largest advocacy organization for students with disabilities.

“I first heard about this award when I was only a few months into my doctoral program, and I remember thinking ‘I hope I can be that kind of scholar someday,’” said Bishop, who hopes to find a post-doctoral research position after her graduation. “To receive the award is an affirmation of my commitment to this work, but it also motivates me to continue to make important contributions to the field.”

Working as a graduate research assistant at UF’s CEECS, Bishop’s focus is in improving instruction in early childhood settings, including strengthening the professional capacity of leadership personnel. Bishop is also investigating how early childhood policies are translated and enacted into practice.

She first became interested in helping children with disabilities as a youth worker in a group home for adolescents who had hearing impairments. Later, she became a teacher for infants and toddlers at an all-inclusive preschool, where she worked with children with special needs. One child’s parent, Barb Best, who nominated Bishop for the award, said Bishop was “more than ‘just a teacher’” to her students.

“Without a doubt, I would entrust her with my children’s lives,” Best wrote in her recommendation letter for Bishop.

Since then, Bishop has received her master’s degree in human development counseling from Vanderbilt University. Throughout her graduate studies, she has also been involved in several research projects funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Further, Bishop has authored a number of academic articles, book chapters, and presentations related to her research interests.

Bishop’s commitment to serving young children through her research, policy work, and teaching experiences has left a lasting imprint. According to Snyder, her doctoral adviser, Bishop “exemplifies the essence” of the J. David Sexton Doctoral Student Award.

“Crystal embodies many of the scholarly and interpersonal characteristics that David possessed and that he valued in others,” Snyder said. “He would be proud that Crystal is a part of his extended ‘academic’ family.”

Bishop will receive the award Oct. 18 at the Division for Early Childhood’s annual international conference in San Francisco.

   WRITER: Alexa Lopez, news and communications office, UF College of Education; aklopez@coe.ufl.edu 

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Technology Teaching Lab for future teachers takes interactive learning to higher level

STL Associate Director Suzanne Colvin is shown with ProTeach students in the tech-enhanced classroom.

STL Associate Director Suzanne Colvin is shown with ProTeach students in the tech-enhanced classroom.

After a few months of training sessions and moderate class scheduling, the UF College of Education’s new “technology teaching laboratory” will open in full swing this fall to hundreds of computer-savvy students—not only in education but from several colleges across campus.  

Aiming to bring teacher education into the 21st century, the college has converted a vintage 1979 reading clinic—Room 2309 in UF’s Norman Hall—into a digital-age, tech-smart classroom, where professors are incorporating the latest technology into their teaching to transform student learning and increase teacher-student engagement.

The college last year received $141,000 for the room makeover project from UF’s Office of Academic Technology through a campuswide grant program supported by yearly student technology fees.

The reinvented classroom features the latest educational technology. New touch-screen SMART boards complement the traditional dry-erase boards, and students sit in groups for collaboration at seven movable media pods. Up to four iPads or laptops can be connected at each station, and all four screens can be shown at once on a shared large monitor.

“The greatest innovation isn’t the SMART boards or the iPads—it’s the use of technology to redesign the classroom into collaborative thinking stations,” said Suzanne Colvin, associate director of teacher education in the college’s School of Teaching and Learning. She was instrumental in orchestrating the classroom makeover and its funding.

The teaching lab’s seven media pods each face a large screen for the students to share their computer-monitor views with the group. Each station can connect to one of two 40-inch monitors at each end of the classroom. With the screens at each station and the capability to connect to the larger monitors, the instructor can see what each group is working on from a distance, even with large classes.

“The students are literally in awe when they first walk into class,” Colvin said. “They are digital natives, though, so it’s easy for them to adapt to the room and to utilize the equipment.” 

Colvin said the classroom technology can improve the interaction between students and the instructor or among themselves in group projects and problem-solving exercises. “Students can get a group-thinking experience in the new classroom that isn’t possible with distance learning or a traditional lecture-style class,” she said.

Clinical assistant professor Caitlin Gallingane likes holding sessions of her literacy methods courses in the tech-smart classroom because “it makes students active participants” in the lessons.

“Instead of showing a video of a teaching practice on the screen at the front of the room, students are each responsible for finding an online example of a teaching practice and then watching them together on the shared screens at the media pod and evaluating the practices as a group,” Gallingane said.

The lab’s collaborative technology lets students take more responsibility for their own learning and become critical thinkers—a necessary skill for success in today’s interconnected knowledge economy.

Barbara Pace, associate professor in English education, teaches technology and media literacy, a required course for future English teachers, and holds some of her classes in the lab so her students can learn to use a variety of digital tools in their reading instruction. 

The tech-enhanced teaching lab “offers greater opportunities for students to engage in interactive group work and gather information from a variety of sources,” Pace said. “Synthesizing information (using the lab’s digital tools) seems more focused on ‘why’ than on ‘how’.”


‘Rising star’ crafts plot to narrow learning gap

Sometimes, all it takes is a notable quote to inspire a person to seek change, lead reform and serve the community.

For University of Florida education doctoral student Jasmine Ulmer, the life-changing words were voiced by former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige: “In the greatest, wealthiest nation the world has ever known, nearly seven out of 10 fourth-graders in big cities and rural areas cannot read. It is our greatest failure as a nation. It is our failure as a people, and we must do something about it.”

At the time, Ulmer was an undergraduate at UF studying English and classical studies. But after stumbling upon Paige’s comments, Ulmer was driven to become a reading teacher and coach.

“After reading that quote, I was inspired to enter the College of Education upon graduation to earn a master’s in reading education,” said Ulmer, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2004 and her master’s degree the following year. “But once I entered the classroom to address challenges in literacy, I became aware of a broader spectrum of challenges that face the students, teachers and leaders in our schools.”

Today, Ulmer is pursuing her Ph.D. in educational leadership at UF, and her professors peg her as a rising star in Florida education policy with a desire to improve the learning gap in schools with the help of teachers and school leaders.

Along with several years of teaching experience, she has participated in a number of education policy projects, including the Florida Department of Education’s FCAT bias review committee from 2008 to 2011. In 2009, she was selected to serve as a U.S. Department of Education teaching ambassador fellow and got the opportunity to travel, speak with education policy makers and attend conferences.

Now she co-chairs the state education department’s teacher and leader preparation implementation committee, which makes recommendations to Florida’s Race to the Top committee about standards and learning targets for state-approved teacher preparation programs.

Ulmer began her upward journey in 2005 as a teacher who took on a variety of roles, from teaching second- and seventh-grade classes to serving as an elementary science coach.

She also found time to collaborate with district, state and federal officials on issues related to advancing the teaching profession.

“As an elementary classroom teacher I could affect 18 students at a time, and as an instructional coach I could influence a thousand students at a time,” she said. “Though I love my students and miss them very much, I felt the way I could best contribute to the profession was to support my students’ teachers on a larger scale.”

Ulmer believes one way the teaching profession can be transformed is through the development of career ladders that build upon teachers’ individual talents and interests. Then, she said, schools might be able to retain more teachers and create stronger internal systems of support.

“For example, some teachers might be able to spend more time mentoring other teachers, leading professional development, designing instruction, utilizing technology, working with the community, or collaborating with researchers on projects,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer’s colleagues and professors tout her as a major player in the future of Florida education. She hopes to focus her dissertation research on how the perspectives and experiences of educators can be better incorporated into educational policy and practice decisions.

“Jasmine has just been an exceptional addition to our class of college research fellows,” said Bernard Oliver, UF program coordinator in educational administration and policy. “Her experience and involvement with Florida’s Race to the Top initiatives provide our students and faculty in educational leadership with the most current thinking about preparing leaders for Florida’s future.”

Ulmer plans to graduate with her Ph.D. in 2015 and then work in academia or for a governmental agency.

“I see myself as one of many voices contributing to a larger conversation,” Ulmer said. “I’m relatively new to the field and feel fortunate for the opportunities that I’ve had, and I hope I’m able to continue making positive contributions.”

WRITER: Alexa Lopez, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449
MEDIA CONTACT: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137

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Special Education team awarded $25 million to advance teaching of students with disabilities

The University of Florida’s College of Education will receive $25 million over the next five years to address a concern that has plagued American schools for more than two decades—inadequate teaching of children with disabilities.

Mary Brownell

Paul Sindelar

Erica McCray

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs in December granted the first of five annual, $5 million awards to the education college to establish a center to support the development of effective teachers—in general and special education classrooms–and education leaders to serve students with disabilities.

“This grant represents the (Education Department’s) largest investment ever in improving education for students with disabilities,” said co-principal investigator and UF special education professor Mary Brownell.

She said the new Collaboration for Effective Educator Development and Accountability and Reform, also known as CEEDAR Center, will open in January in Norman Hall, home of the College of Education. Other UF co-principal investigators are Paul Sindelar and Erica McCray, also in special education.

Brownell said the CEEDAR Center will work with states in strengthening professional standards and reforming preparation and certification programs for general and special education teachers, and school and school district leaders who work with students with disabilities. The center also will help states revise their teacher evaluation systems to align with the higher professional standards.

“Studies establish that our current systems for licensing, preparing, developing, supporting and evaluating teachers to effectively instruct students with unique needs are wholly inadequate,” Brownell said. “The CEEDAR Center approach is to reform and align these areas with research-proven practices and professional standards.”

“This grant will allow the special education field to take a giant step in improving the education of all students,” she said. “Students with disabilities perform in school more poorly than any other subgroup of students. With truly effective instruction, though, many of these students have abilities that will allow them to advance and succeed in college, career and other postsecondary options.”

Through the CEEDAR Center, the UF group is partnering with nine other organizations in plans to eventually roll out a special-education reform program to 20 states. The center’s primary partner is the American Institutes for Research. Other collaborators include the University of Kansas, the New Teacher Center (a national non-profit), the University of Washington at Bothell, the Council for Exceptional Children and several other national professional organizations.

SOURCE: Mary Brownell, UF professor of special education, mbrownell@coe.ufl.edu; (c) 352-273-4261; (h) 352-331-2404
SOURCE: Paul Sindelar, UF professor of special education, pts@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4266
SOURCE: Erica McCray, UF assistant professor of special education, edm@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4264
WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education; llansford@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4137



Ford Foundation aids UF Latino immigrant education effort

UF bilingual/ESOL education professor Maria Coady will play a leading role in a $400,000 initiative of UF’s Center for Latin American Studies to develop an interdisciplinary outreach program on immigration, religion and social change.

 The center recently received a two-year grant for that amount from the Ford Foundation to develop effective modules of intervention, exchange and outreach addressing the urgent needs of immigrant Latino communities in North Florida and other southeastern states. Program for Immigration, Religion, and Social Change (PIRSC)–the three-part grant project–focuses on intersecting immigrant Latinos and churches but also ties into legal rights, education, and health care.

 The center is partnering with nongovernmental organizations in the region and faculty in the colleges of Education, Nursing and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Outreach support comes during a highly polarized climate of growing hostility toward immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the five states with the fastest growth rates in Latino populations were along the south, where controversial anti-illegal immigration bills have appeared.

 “The intense pressures experienced by many new immigrants and the lack of social services available to strengthen their neighborhoods and communities have created serious social and cultural tensions in many parts of the South,” Coady said. “There is a clear danger of generating a new, permanent underclass living at the margins of society. We want to see people integrated into communities and able to move forward in life.”

 As principal investigator of the grant’s education portion, which draws $85,000 in support from the Ford award, Coady will lead efforts with local schools to train educators and community leaders, and build family-school-community partnerships based on a “family-strengths-based approach” in Levy and Marion Counties, Fla., and other communities being identified in southeastern Alabama.

Coady has hired Abigail Nelson, a spring 2012 master of education graduate, to work with her.  She is also collaborating with the Rural Women’s Health Project, UF’s College of Nursing and the Center for Latin American Studies to provide training and services to new Latino immigrants.

“A family-strength based approach is grounded in the notion that families, in particular linguistic and culturally diverse families, bring resources to the communities and schools where they live,” Coady said. “These resources can–and should–be used by educators for teaching and to build a partnership with families that benefit kids.”

Her educational project is one of three main initiatives. The Ford Foundation grant supports developing a network of local organizations working in the area on immigrant integration and local civic engagement. Health care access is another focus, with researchers developing and evaluating a community-health worker intervention program to improve health literacy and health-care access among immigrants in the South.

Many of the educational and outreach services—including informational events, retreats, conferences and workshops co-sponsored with faith-based organizations—will be provided in church settings, where immigrants often turn for help and solidarity, Coady said.

A Newcomer Center in Levy County will open this fall, offering bilingual materials that explain how schools work, school enrollment packets and information about clinics and healthcare.

Coady is recognized as an international authority in bilingual and ESOL education. The Institute of International Education’s Fulbright Specialist program, which connects top educators and other professionals in the United States to institutions in more than 100 countries, selected her earlier this year as a candidate in teaching English as a second language and applied linguistics. She has the opportunity to create and engage in short-term projects at an institution or country in need.

She joined UF’s College of Education faculty in 2003 and became a tenured professor in the School of Teaching and Learning in 2010. Coady earned her doctorate degree in social, bilingual and multicultural foundations of education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. 


Maria Coady, associate professor, UF College of Education, 352-273-4228; mcoady@coe.ufl.edu
Nicole La Hoz, communications intern, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449; nicdyelah@coe.ufl.edu
Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu

COE ranking jumps 18 spots to 34th in U.S., four programs cited

After a brief downturn, UF’s College of Education has reclaimed its long-held spot in the Top 50 national rankings of America’s best graduate schools, which were announced March 13 by U.S. News and World Report.

UF’s 106-year-old education college didn’t merely crack the Top 50 benchmark—it obliterated it, climbing 18 spots to No. 34 among 238 education schools participating in the survey. UF is Florida’s highest ranked education school. The College of Education ranked 24th nationally among education schools at public institutions and was the top-ranked public education college in the Southeastern Conference.

Four UF education specialty programs also were nationally ranked:





The college had ranked between 52nd and 54th over the past four years before this year’s turnaround. Those years marked a decline from its traditional Top 50 ranking that coincided with severe budget reductions in Florida’s higher-education budget as mandated by the state legislature. The COE consistently ranked in the Top 35 in the first half-decade of this century, rising as high as 24th in 2005.

“We don’t live or die by the rankings, but it is gratifying when the news involves a jump of 18 spots in the rankings. Improvement of this magnitude is quite rare,” said UF education dean Glenn Good. “It’s indicative of the extraordinary and inspiring work of our faculty and staff during a time of declining state support, and they earned this good news.”

Good, in his first year as UF’s education dean, also credited his predecessor, Catherine Emihovich, who served as dean from 2002-2011, including the survey assessment period for the latest U.S. News rankings.

Along with good, old-fashioned hard work by faculty, staff and students, Good attributed the exceptional turnaround to several factors, including substantial spikes in externally funded research grants and in increased doctoral student selectivity. Funded research and GRE scores are two variables considered in the U.S. News rankings.

Funded research in the College of Education increased by 15 percent overall (to $14.8 million) from 2010 to 2011, and rose by 28 percent (to $212,000) per faculty member over the same period. Mean verbal and quantitative GRE scores of doctoral students entering in fall of 2011 climbed an average of 83 points per section.

Good also noted the improvement in how the nation’s school district superintendents rated the college’s program quality (improving from 3.6 to 3.9 on a 5.0 scale). He attributed the improvement to the college’s commitment to partnering with school districts and communities to advance school improvement, student achievement and teacher professional development.

“We have a lot to be proud of at the University of Florida and we will continue to improve our programs in the future,” Good said.


SOURCE: Glenn Good, Dean, UF College of Education, 352-273-4135; ggood @ufl.edu

WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu


UF Teach receives share of $500,000 award from AT&T

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — UF Teach, a novel program considered to be the pillar of the UF College of Education’s science and math education reform strategy, will split $500,000 in support from AT&T with four other universities with similar programs, according to an announcement Jan. 19 by the National Math and Science Initiative.

From left: FSU President Eric Barron; Marshall Criser III, AT&T Florida President and UF trustee; Glenn Good, dean of the UF College of Education; and UF President Bernie Machen pose with oversized checks from AT&T.

The five benefiting programs, all modeled after the highly regarded UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin, will each receive $100,000. AT&T presented awards to UF Teach and to model programs at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Irvine, the University of Northern Arizona and Florida State University.

“AT&T deserves tremendous credit for its foresight in recognizing the growing importance of math and science education,” UF President Bernie Machen said. “If you want to get students interested in those fields, you have to reach them early. This gift is a long-range investment that will help the University of Florida graduate the teachers that are needed to keep our state and our nation economically competitive for years to come.”

UF Teach is a collaboration between the university’s College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the goal is to recruit the best math and science majors and prepare them to teach effectively. Master science and math teachers from the education college induct the students into the community of teachers by showing them the most effective, research-proven teaching methods in the given content areas and exposing them to supervised classroom experiences with schoolchildren beginning in their first semester.

The program, in its fourth year, offers education minors for their efforts in hopes the students will teach. Their degrees qualify them for teaching certification in Florida schools. Tom Dana, associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Education, co-directs UF Teach with Alan Dorsey, a physics professor and an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The first UF Teach class of 41 students enrolled in 2008, and enrollment jumped to 224 last spring. UF officials project that by 2015, UF Teach will graduate more than 60 students yearly who will be certified, and highly qualified, to teach middle and high school math and science in Florida schools. Dana said the number of math and science students in Florida served by UF Teach graduates should top 25,000 by 2015 and continue to grow exponentially each year.

NMSI has partnered with the UTeach Institute to implement the path-breaking program for recruiting and preparing math and science teachers in universities across the country since 2008 and is helping expand the program to 28 universities this fall. Enrollment in UTeach-modeled programs has tripled in the last three years, attracting more than 5,000 math and science majors across the country this fall.

“AT&T is acutely aware that our country needs more skilled workers in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Marshall Criser III, AT&T Florida president and UF trustee. “All Americans will need to be more STEM proficient to be competitive in the 21st century.”

UTeach originated at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997. The program enables students majoring in math, science, or computer science to receive full teaching certification without adding time or cost to their degrees.

The core elements of UTeach model programs include:

  • Active recruitment and incentives, such as offering the first two courses for free.
  • A compact degree program that allows students to graduate in four years with both a degree and teaching certification.
  • A strong focus on acquiring deep content knowledge in math and science, in addition to research-based teaching strategies focusing on teaching and learning math and science.
  • Early and intensive field teaching experience, beginning in the UTeach students’ first semester.
  • Personal guidance from experienced master teachers, faculty and public school teachers.

The National Math and Science Initiative was launched in 2007 by top leaders in business, education, and science to reverse the decline in American math and science education. Inaugural funding was provided by the Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

CONTACT: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu


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COE-P.K. Yonge researchers head $5 million effort to transform middle-school science education

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida education researchers will lead a $5 million effort, funded by the National Science Foundation, to transform how science is taught in Florida’s middle schools, with high-need schools in 20 mostly rural school districts serving as the testing grounds.

The researchers are chasing an ambitious goal — to close the gap in science learning between U.S. students and their peers in higher performing nations. Scores from a 2010 Program for International Student Assessment report showed the U.S. ranked 17th out of 34 industrialized countries in science scores among 15-year-old students.

Lynda Hayes

“We want to shift middle school science teaching to a goals-driven approach with learning experiences that excite and engage all students. This will increase their chances of success as students transition from middle school to more advanced high school science courses,” said Lynda Hayes, an affiliate faculty member at UF’s College of Education and director of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the college’s K-12 laboratory school.

“To catch up with our peers in other nations, we need to increase the size and diversity of our pipelines in science and math after high school graduation,” added Hayes. “We must ensure that disadvantaged students in small, rural and high-poverty schools are afforded equal opportunity to succeed in a cutting-edge science curriculum before they reach high school.”

Hayes is principal investigator of the five-year NSF project. Her UF co-investigators are science education professor Rose Pringle and Mary Jo Koroly, professor and director of biochemistry and molecular biology. Suzette Pelton, STEM coordinator of the Levy County School District, a project core partner, is also a co-principal investigator. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Recruiting and retaining more highly qualified middle and high school science teachers is a critical workforce need. The NSF project’s reform strategy calls for boosting student achievement by improving science content knowledge and professional development among practicing middle-school teachers.

The researchers are banking on an award-winning, on-the-job graduate degree program developed at UF called Teacher Leadership and School Improvement, with a focus on science education, to train “Science Teacher Leaders” in new, research-proven practices in science instruction. The TLSI program won the Association of Teacher Education’s coveted 2011 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award.

TLSI blends 36 credit-hours of online and face-to-face instruction by UF professors. The program is free for participating teachers with the NSF grant covering their tuition, valued at $21,000 each. Another novel aspect of the coursework is its “inquiry-based” approach, in which the teacher-students collaboratively assess their own teaching practices and share new knowledge with each other.

UF’s College of Education will enroll one teacher from each partnering school district in the degree program, which upon graduation will qualify them as district Science Teacher Leaders.

“In exchange for free tuition, the Science Teacher Leaders must remain at their high-needs schools for five years, including their two-year coursework,” Hayes said. “This will help our most challenging middle schools support and retain some of their best science teachers.”

Rose Pringle...co-PI

Armed with new science knowledge and a research-proven curriculum, the highly-trained Science Teacher Leaders will form and lead “professional learning communities” of their peers—each leader training 10 teachers at their own schools and neighboring middle schools to continuously study science teaching practices and student learning. Their students, in sixth through eighth grade, will be taught the same inquiry-based science practices and critical-thinking methods that the teacher leaders learned in their own coursework.

“Our Science Teacher Leadership Institute will allow 40 middle school science teachers in 20 school districts to earn their master’s degree in science education in two years and coach 400 middle school science teachers in their home districts,” said co-investigator Pringle, the UF science education professor. “The Science Teacher Leaders will work as change agents to lead district-wide transformation in middle school science teaching and learning. Nearly 60,000 middle school students will be impacted, primarily in high-poverty rural and urban areas.”

Participating school districts will come from the Northeast Florida Educational Consortium — a support organization for 15 districts spanning from the Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast in north and central Florida. Five other counties also have committed: Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Union and Suwannee.

P.K. Yonge science teacher Mayra Cordero, pictured, will host a demonstration class for Science Teacher Leader trainees.

Under Hayes’ guidance, UF’s P.K. Yonge laboratory school began testing the experimental curriculum last year and is working with Joseph Krajcik, a leading authority on science curriculum development from Michigan State University, to align the curriculum with Florida’s rigorous new science standards. P.K. Yonge’s middle school science program will host demonstration classrooms to help train the Science Teacher Leaders.

Researchers will compare the impact of the new teaching approaches with conventional practices and disseminate their findings nationwide to drive science education reform in middle schools around the state and nation.

Other UF units contributing to course design, training, implementation and project evaluation include the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, the Division of Continuing Education and the CAPES (Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services) program, headed by professor David Miller in the College of Education.


SOURCE: Lynda Hayes, university school professor at UF’s College of Education and director of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School (UF’s K-12 laboratory school), lhayes@pky.ufl.edu; 352-392-1554, ext. 223

SOURCE: Rose Pringle, associate professor, science education, UF’s College of Education; rpringle@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4190

WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education; llansford@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4137

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Businesswoman’s $1 million gift creates professorship in early childhood studies

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Entrepreneur Anita Zucker, a 1972 education graduate of the University of Florida, last year challenged fellow alumni who had never contributed to make an annual donation to the College of Education. Zucker, a 2010 recipient of UF’s Distinguished Alumni Award, sweetened the deal by matching such gifts dollar-for-dollar.

Today, Zucker is leading by example by pledging $1 million to create an endowed professorship in early childhood studies at the college. Her contribution will generate an additional $120,000 in funds from the Faculty Now incentive program established by UF President Bernie Machen to generate more faculty endowments. Zucker’s is the first gift made to the College of Education through the program.

Anita Zucker

The post’s formal name will be the Anita Zucker Endowed Professorship in Early Childhood Studies. College officials say they will fill the professorship with a top scholar in that academic specialty. Yearly interest earned on the gift will fund groundbreaking research, teaching and clinical programs conducted by the appointed scholar.

Zucker’s gift follows the creation of a new interdisciplinary Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies in December. The campuswide center is a model training, demonstration and research site where UF scholars—in fields as diverse as education, medicine, law, public health and the life sciences—work with local, state and national partners to advance the science and practice of early childhood development and early learning.

The Zucker professorship becomes the second endowed position in the College of Education’s early childhood studies program. World-class scholar Patricia Snyder occupies the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies, created in 2007.

“Establishing this new interdisciplinary professorship, alongside the existing Lawrence chair, ensures that early childhood studies will remain a strong focus at the University of Florida, and a resource for the state and nation, for years to come,” said Snyder, who was instrumental in mobilizing the university’s top specialists in childhood education, health and well-being to create the new center for excellence.

Zucker is a former teacher, a lifetime education advocate, a history-making businesswoman, and one of Charleston, South Carolina’s leading citizens. She and her late husband, Jerry, received bachelor’s degrees from UF in 1972 — Anita in education and Jerry with a triple major in math, chemistry and physics. Anita taught elementary school for 10 years and also has a master’s in educational administration and supervision.

When Jerry Zucker died in 2008, Anita succeeded him as chief executive officer of the Hudson Bay Company, North America’s oldest company. She is the company’s first woman CEO. She also heads the family’s InterTech Group company, the North Charleston-based global conglomerate.

“The early childhood years are the most critical time for learning in a young person. That’s when they build their foundation and learn their vocabulary needs for life,” Zucker said. “Creating this professorship ensures the University of Florida will always have a top scholar who can prepare our future educators to teach our youngest children so they can succeed in school and life.”

She raised almost $100,000 last year in her Anita Zucker Alumni Challenge, including her dollar-for-dollar match of nearly $50,000. She says she hopes her latest gift inspires other large contributions to the College of Education.

“Education unlocks all doors for the future and we need to provide it to our young people to increase their chances for success,” Zucker said.

Source: Pat Snyder, 352-273-4291, patriciasnyder@coe.ufl.edu
Writer: Larry Lansford, 352-273-4137, llansford@coe.ufl.edu


New interdisciplinary center will boost early childhood learning

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The growing movement to provide high-quality, early learning experiences for Florida’s youngest children received a major boost Tuesday (Dec. 14) when the University of Florida announced the creation of an interdisciplinary Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies.

UF officials said the campuswide center will be a model training, demonstration and research site where UF scholars—in fields as diverse as education, medicine, law, public health and the life sciences—will work with local, state and national partners on issues pertaining to young children and their families.

Their collective mission: to advance the science and practice of early childhood development and early learning.

UF Provost Joseph Glover said the center is a joint effort by the College of Education, Baby Gator Child Development and Research Center, the College of Medicine and UF’s Office of Human Resource Services.

The center’s creation is the culmination of work that started with the 2007 appointment of world-class scholar Patricia Snyder to the College of Education’s David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies. Snyder was charged with mobilizing the university’s top specialists in early childhood studies for collaborative research and training activities.

“We are organizing the center as a comprehensive early learning campus, with young children learning in a high-quality environment,” said Snyder, the center’s founding director.

The College of Education will initially house the center’s administrative offices in Norman Hall, with Baby Gator–UF’s early education and care program for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers—serving as the primary “hub” of center activities. Both Baby Gator campus facilities will participate.

Snyder said future plans call for building a third, state-of-the-art Baby Gator facility with ample space for all center administration and childcare activities, at a site yet to be determined.

Snyder is one of the nation’s foremost authorities in early childhood studies. She came to UF from Vanderbilt University, where she directed research at its Center for Child Development. Locally, Snyder is on the Alachua County steering committee for the Children’s Movement of Florida, formed to spotlight the development and education of young children as Florida’s top priority.

Pamela Pallas, Baby Gator director since 2003, also joins the leadership team. Pallas has steered Baby Gator’s reorganization from a more traditional childcare facility into a nationally recognized and accredited child development and research center. Baby Gator’s two centers currently serve 240 children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, with a waiting list of more than 200 children.

(Pictured at right, Snyder (l) reads to 1-year-old William Pugh, while Pallas (r) reads to classmate Sophia Lingis.)

Snyder said UF pediatrics professors Marylou Behnke and Fonda Davis Eyler, who co-direct the North Central Florida Early Steps program (supporting infants and toddlers with disabilities), and UF education professor Maureen Conroy, also will play key leadership roles in research and the clinical training of graduate students. They are already collaborating on early prevention and intervention studies for young children with or at risk for disabilities, including autism.

“We’ll be developing the next generation of early-childhood studies leaders, creating new doctoral programs and forming an infant-toddler (birth-age 3) specialization track in our early education programs,” Snyder said.

To receive formal center designation, the Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies required approval from the provost and Vice President for Research Win Phillips. Over the next two years, the center will receive nearly $250,000 in combined seed money from UF’s Office of Sponsored Research, College of Education, Office of Human Resource Services (which oversees Baby Gator) and the Lawrence endowment fund.

UF Education Dean Catherine Emihovich said the new center reflects a commitment to unify and elevate an already strong program at UF into the top tier of nationally recognized programs in early childhood studies.

“Children begin learning from the moment they are born. Yet one in three children in the United States enters school unprepared to learn, and many never catch up,” Emihovich said. “This center fills a critical gap in addressing a key educational priority identified by both the state of Florida and the nation,”

Also instrumental in the center’s formation is David Lawrence Jr., a UF alumnus and the namesake of Snyder’s endowed chair. Since retiring in 1999 as publisher of the Miami Herald, Lawrence has devoted his life to promoting early child education and well-being. He holds an academic appointment as a UF Scholar and is president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Miami, which currently partners with UF in a massive school-readiness and early-learning effort in Dade County schools.

Building a real movement for the early childhood years requires great examples of high quality and real research—and this (center) does both,” Lawrence said.

Local children’s advocates also expect the center to have a dramatic impact on early learning in North Central Florida.

“I am thrilled to learn about this center,” said Karen Bricklemyer, president and CEO of United Way of North Central Florida. “Tackling early education for at-risk children requires a community-wide effort, and United Way devotes significant resources to this cause through initiatives like ‘Success by 6” and program funding. We look to research conducted at the University of Florida to let us know our strategies will make an impact. We look forward to working with UF’s new center to ensure that all children in our community have access to high-quality, early learning experiences.”


Source: Patricia Snyder, Professor and David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies, UF College of Education; 352-273-4291; patriciasnyder@coe.ufl.edu

Source: Pam Pallas, Director of Baby Gator Child Development and Research Center, and Clinical Associate Professor in the College of Education, University of Florida; 352-392-2330;ppallas@coe.ufl.edu

Writer/Media Contact: Larry Lansford, director, UF College of Education news & communication, 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu


UF Alliance marks 10 years of improving college access for minority students in Florida’s inner-city schools

Posted Nov. 12. 2010

In 2000, only two seniors from Miami Carol City High School were accepted into the University of Florida. A decade later in 2010, UF enrolled 22 seniors from the inner-city school.

Stephen Backs, a world history teacher at the school, attributes the dramatic increase to the UF Alliance, a College of Education-based, school improvement program that partners with six high-poverty high schools in Florida’s three largest cities–Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami (including Miami Carol City High)–and with three affiliate schools in Puerto Rico.

The Alliance last year provided outreach and college access activities to more than 1,100 high school students, mostly underserved minority urban youth.

Diane Archer-Banks and Stephen BacksBacks (pictured, right, with Alliance interim director Diane Archer-Banks), on Nov. 9, made the long drive from Miami to Gainesville to help the Alliance celebrate its 10th anniversary with a reception on campus at UF’s Reitz Union. He told about 50 guests, including UF President Bernie Machen, that he was one of the first teachers approached at his school to help select 40 ninth-grade students to participate in the Alliance’s first campus tour.

Since 2001, the Alliance has hosted 3,000 ninth-graders from partnering schools for overnight visits to UF, giving them a taste of college life and familiarizing them with the academic offerings and the admissions process.

Other Alliance activities for students include leadership forums, mentoring, and school-based events to heighten awareness of the college preparation and planning process for both students and their parents.

Archer-Banks said the Alliance annually awards 30 scholarships–five to each partnering school–for students to attend UF. The scholarships are valued at $12,500 over four years.

Banks said that through hard work and determination, the Alliance and its partnering schools “have created a revolution of hope that has helped to dispel the myth among low-income, underrepresented students that they can never attend college.”

At the anniversary celebration, Archer-Banks presented Sophie Maxis and Bernie Olivermore than a dozen awards of appreciation to staff, supporters and collaborators, including Backs and Bernie Oliver, who recently stepped down after five years as UF Alliance director. Oliver (pictured, right, with Alliance staff member Sophie Maxis) remains on the UF education faculty. UF Alliance students Jamisha Jenkins (from Jacksonville Raines High) and Miguel Mejia (Miami Senior High) also gave testimonials about how the program helped them beat the odds and earn Alliance scholarships to UF.

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SOURCE: Diane Archer-Banks, interim director, UF Alliance, daBanks@coe.ufl.edu
WRITER/PHOTOGRAPHER: Larry Lansford, News & Communications, UF College of Education, llansford@coe.ufl.edu