Originally published April 2001, Ithaca Times
Word Count: 2,507
Partners in Teaching
By Tom M. Paolangeli
“BLOW BLOW BLOW BLOW,” shouts Professor Frank Micale. He has to shout, because South Seneca High School eleventh grader Jeff Erickson is currently under water, submerged in a 500 gallon stainless steel tank. Erickson is straining to expel every last bit of air from his lungs. Bubbles cease trickling to the surface, and Micale shouts “RELAX.” Erickson, clutching a PVC framework, hangs motionless. Micale consults a scale suspended over the tank. “OKAY. COME UP!” he yells.
Erickson immediately bursts to the surface, gasping for air. Nineteen of his classmates giggle and laugh, as he climbs out of the tank, water dripping from his sleek wrestler’s physique and baggy yellow swimming trunks.
“Alright,” Micale says. “Anyone else care to try it?”
The scene is the Wellness Clinic at Ithaca College, and Micale, the Director, is showing Janice Frossard’s Human Anatomy and Physiology class a Hydrostatic Weighing demonstration: an extremely accurate way to measure percentage of body fat. Earlier, Erickson also consented to be wired up and put through the paces on a treadmill for an Exercise Tolerance Test. That measured his aerobic capacity, his cardiovascular fitness. In typical teenage understatement, Erickson says it was “Weird, but cool.”
Frossard’s class visit to the lab is due to Ithaca College’s Partnership in Teaching program. Founded eight years ago, the program encourages IC faculty and staff to share their expertise and talents. In most cases, it is the IC folk that travel to the local elementary, middle and high schools to make diverse and fascinating presentations. The interaction the Partnership fosters is a nice reprieve in our area’s sometimes sharply drawn town/gown lines.
The Partnership program is run by the Center for Teacher Education, with the help of an endowment from the Tompkins County Trust Company. Alice Rockey is Assistant to the Director of the Center. Each fall she sends out a colorful brochure to area schools that lists the available programs.
“We currently offer about 60 different presentations,” Rockey explained “This year we’ve had over 80 requests, and completed about 50. We target the TST BOCES District (Tompkins, Seneca and Tioga counties), but if presenters are willing to travel further, that’s fine.”
Rockey stresses that this is a true “partnership.”
“It’s a two way street. It’s not like we’re up here and we’re going to show you what to do. It’s more interactive.”
The “partnership” aspect of the program is also stressed by Fred Estabrook, Manager of Instructional Graphics at IC. He offers presentations in Computer Animation, PhotoShop, and Charting and Graphing with PowerPoint. After consulting with the host teacher about their goals, he’ll tailor his presentation to suit the age and skill level of the class. For example, to help young students at Cayuga Heights Elementary School understand PowerPoint charts and graphs, he raided his office’s coffee money box for nickels. He then set down various small stacks of coins, and plotted the X and Y axis on a piece of cardboard standing behind the stacks.
“That’s how charts actually began. I think it was back in the 1700’s in England, merchants would count and stack their money at the end of the week. At the end of the month they would put their weeks’ stacks of coins in a row, and then they’d be able to see the progression. The kids were able to understand these concepts much more clearly than if I just tried to explain it verbally.”
Estabrook is often surprised by how quickly kids can pick up new skills.
“Once at Boynton Middle School I gave them some software that did simple 3D animations. They had a ball. That particular group of kids was really fast. They played around with the software about 10 or 15 minutes free form, and the next thing I know they’re doing these really impressive little animations. That was a wake up call to me. I thought I was going to show them all kinds of stuff, and basically all I showed them was how to get started.”
Estabrook says the elementary school setting can be a bit more of a challenge than a college classroom.
“What I try to do is hands-on. Kids are making stuff on their computer, then running over to their friends, looking at their screen and saying ‘how did you do that?’ It can get a little chaotic. I’m glad there are teachers in the room to clap their hands and settle the students down. It’s like herding cats. But it’s a lot of fun!”
Estabrook is a big fan of the Partnership program.
“I really enjoy it. It started before Peggy Williams (President of Ithaca College) arrived, but it fits right into her theme of Ithaca College’s community involvement. I think it’s become stronger under her administration. It’s just a really good idea. Volunteerism is a wonderful thing, not just for the students, but also for the staff and faculty. It makes Ithaca a very excellent and unique community.”
The Partnership program not only draws on the obvious expertise of the College’s staff and faculty, but it also allows them to work outside their usual discipline. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Verna Brummett, Associate Professor of Music, offers workshops in “Choral Rehearsals,” or a presentation for music teachers called “Alternative Assessment in Music Classrooms.” But you might not expect to find her dressed in a galabeya, (a long black Bedouin marriage dress covered with colorful cross-stitching), presenting a program called “From Pharaohs to Felluccas: Egypt Yesterday and Today.”
“It’s good for us as teachers to put forth something different,” Brummett said. “I have other facets that are fun to share. I lived in Egypt for three years and taught at the International School in Cairo, Cairo American College. As a result I have a lot of artifacts and things to share with the students. I usually wear the galabeya. I also bring a kafia, a scarf that working men wear turban style. I let one of the fellows put it on. We make the connection between rural dress in the United States and how it’s different than what it would be in Egypt today. I try to make it interactive.”
Brummett sometimes brings in balady bread, hummus, or honey-sesame candies for the students to try. She might teach them a few Arabic words like yes, no, thank you, and numbers. Usually the students have been studying ancient Egypt, so she might bring in some papyrus, or talk about the differences between ancient and modern Cairo.
One of the more memorable presentations Brummett did last year was at the Louis Gossett Residential Center in Lansing, a state run facility for the treatment of adolescent males coming from the family court system.
“The young men had some of the most thought provoking questions and interesting perceptions.”
Brummett said that when she talked about kiosks in Cairo, the students compared them to corner stores in Brooklyn. Also, some of the young men were quite knowledgeable about Islam, the Koran, and Muslim life.
“They brought a very different, informed perspective to the presentation.”
Why does Brummett participate in the Partnership program?
“Well I’m a teacher!” she laughed. “It’s exciting for me to deal with these students, for me to bring a little different insight, having lived in Egypt. To some it might as well have been the moon. I just love being around young people, these inquisitive minds.”
John Schwartz, Associate Professor of Physics, offers presentations with such intriguing titles as “Why Does Frost Appear on Car Windows Before the Car’s Body,” “Why Do Metal Desk Legs Feel Cold When the Wooden Top Doesn’t,” and “What Are Sonic Booms, and How Do They Happen?” He also teaches about Astronomy. Recently he brought a computer program called “Starry Night” to Dewitt Middle School. The software simulated the motion of the stars across the sky.
“You pick the date and location, and it shows you the sky. You can speed it up, so we can sweep across the whole night sky from dusk to dawn in 20 minutes. You can click on an object to see what it is, like Jupiter, then you can zoom in to see it enlarged.
It’s almost as though you had a really cool telescope. A telescope of almost unlimited funding, in your back yard. It’s fun.
“The goal was to help students see what goes on in the night sky, so that they could go home, look outside, and see the constellations. I think some of the students and teachers went out and bought the software, it’s not that expensive.”
Schwartz also planned to bring the students up to Ithaca College’s Observatory, but Ithaca’s infamous weather has kept those plans on hold.
Schwartz’s involvement doesn’t end at the conclusion of a program. He stays in email contact with the students and teachers. Recently sixth graders at South Seneca became curious about the way sunlight came through their classroom window and reflected on the ceiling. Everyday at the same time they plotted where the sun was, and it began to make a pattern. They knew who to contact for an explanation.
“They wanted to know what was going on. Will the pattern complete itself?”
Schwartz says they were looking at how the sun shifts in the sky as the seasons progress. Basically tracing out an analemma, a figure eight pattern the sun makes if you look at a shadow or reflection at the same time each day.
One reason Schwartz is involved with the Partnership is because, he says simply, it’s fun. But he also sees a loftier purpose.
“I think those of us in higher education have an obligation to help our colleagues, the teachers in the grade schools, middle schools, high schools. They have a really tough job. Anything we can do to be helpful is appreciated and is a good thing to do. It’s a chance for them to bring in an outside voice, a new person with some new gadgets.”
It’s not always about the latest software or lab equipment, though. Jane Kaplan, Professor of Modern Languages, and Diane Birr, Assistant Professor of Music, present a very popular program called “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, in Word and Music.”
“The French composer Poulenc wrote music for his niece and nephew about Babar, the little elephant.” Kaplan explains. “Diane gives a little introduction and shows the children what to listen for in the music. This sounds like a car, this is like someone getting fussed at, this sounds like surprise, this sounds like a gun, this is like sadness. Diane plays the music, and I tell the story, in between or on top of the music.”
Kaplan obviously enjoys presenting this piece.
“All teachers are hams,” she says with a big smile, “so when I tell the story I try to assume the role of whoever is talking.”
Kaplan says she’s involved with the Partnership Program for both “noble and personal” reasons.
“Young kids are losing a good deal of the cultural elements that were a rich part of kids growing up 20 years ago. Classical music is diminishing. Kids don’t read anymore, they watch videos. This is one way to give them a chance to hear something they might not otherwise hear at all, in the hope of awakening their interest to want more. More reading, more stories, more listening, more music in their lives. I think that the Partnership itself is admirable, not only for kids, but for us on a college level. We tend to forget what it’s like in the lower grades. It’s an eye opener. Unless you have children of that age, you tend to forget what it’s like to teach somebody who’s eight. What you have to do get them to understand, and keep them interested.”
Kaplan’s musical partner, Birr, is also a big fan of the Partnership.
“I appreciate the interaction we get with the students. Their enthusiasm for the music and story, and their questions and comments after we’ve done our presentation are really fascinating for me. I think the concept of introducing the kids to how music can enhance their experience of the text is pretty fascinating stuff. Or how music, even in a television show or movie, can really enhance the comedy or drama, whatever is going on.”
Michael Malpass, Associate Professor of Anthropology, offers programs about the development of cultures in Mexico and Peru. He also does a presentation on human evolution. For this he brings copies of primitive tools and casts of the skulls of our early ancestors.
“I show them the skulls and talk about the general trends in human evolution. For the programs about the Mayas and Aztecs, I have a little talk with slides. I talk about their architecture, religion, their social systems, and how people made a living. A lot of times the teachers tell me what specific information they’d like me to cover. I have a general outline, then fill in the details they’d like.”
Malpass says it’s always a positive experience for him.
“I come away enthusiastic because the students always seem to be very attentive, very interested, and ask good questions. I’m always getting questions from out in left field about some aspect of culture that as an archeologist, maybe I don’t think about, but from a kid’s perspective is very interesting.”
Malpass is one of the most active members of the Partnership in Teaching, having made eight or nine presentations this year alone. He was thrilled when IC began offering the program.
“I believe in it. Years ago in grad school I came to the conclusion that if ever I was given the opportunity, I wanted to share my expertise with secondary schools, where a lot of basic teaching goes on, but they don’t have this kind of specialized information. So when this program came along, it was perfect. It’s a great program. I think teachers at the school systems in this area should take more advantage of it. There’s lots of things that people at IC can present that fit into a school teacher’s curriculum. And it can be tailored to particular needs.”
The Science of Fitness
Meanwhile, back at the Wellness Clinic, Professor Micale leads Mrs. Frossard’s Anatomy class down a narrow hallway. He stops and peers into one of the labs, where college students are intently huddled around their professor.
“Hey,” Micale says to the South Seneca high schoolers, “Anyone want see a cat dissection in progress?”
Despite the initial protests, groans, and giggles, most were in fact curious. And while curiosity may not have served that particular cat too well, the inquisitiveness, excitement and learning engendered by Ithaca College’s Partnership in Teaching make the program a wonderful asset for our community.