Faculty Members Get “Hands On” with Teacher Professional Development

Towson undergrads advise that it is easier to recruit mummification volunteers when the embalming step is skipped.
Towson undergrads advise that it is easier to recruit mummification volunteers when the embalming step is skipped.

Towson, Md. (December 8, 2010):  Who might have guessed that the decision to respond to a Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) grant proposal solicitation would lead to mummification? 

Gail Kaplan, R. Michael (“Mike”) Krach (pictured), and Todd Moyer, department of mathematics, began working together on reaching out to underrepresented students while providing professional development to their teachers about six years ago when they decided to develop a proposal, in response to an MHEC call for grant proposals.  The project, with Dundalk and Holabird middle schools in Baltimore County, became so successful that it continued throughout the students’ middle school careers. 

When the students entered high school, recruiting for the project became more and more difficult.  The three faculty members, although persistent in recruiting students, found that the best tactic would be to instead focus on helping students enter and succeed in postsecondary education by working with teachers on professional development activities.  Their goal was to create a learning community.  Working with Dundalk High School in Baltimore County was a natural choice for them; Dundalk had just hired all new teachers, all of whom were very committed to improving their content knowledge and teaching skills.  Providing professional development in a comfortable, non-threatening environment, with time for both structured lessons and unstructured discussion, proved to be a very successful strategy.  The three faculty members report a nearly 100 percent participation rate.  And Dundalk high school now has an excellent rate of retention of teachers; although two teachers did leave Dundalk due to family obligations, no teacher left the profession this year.

Professional development is carried out in three-hour meetings, beginning with a 1-1/2 hour unstructured discussion/lunch session.  The faculty members then work in a more structured way with teachers, presenting lessons they’ll be able to use in their classrooms. The three faculty members’ expertise lies in the use of technology and hands-on activities.  The teachers themselves provide the ideas for the topics of the lessons, based on what they’d like to do with their own students in their classrooms.  Because the lessons revolve around activities and materials that the teachers wouldn’t necessarily expect to use in high school -- such as “mummy tape,” -- the teachers report that the students really enjoy the lessons when they are brought to the classroom, leading to better learning and retention of the material.  The program has become so popular among teachers that when they have scheduling conflicts, they sometimes will join a session, leave to fulfill another responsibility, then return to the session when they’re free.

Kaplan reports that she and her colleagues are learning a great deal from the teachers as a result of providing the professional development; all three have incorporated what they’ve learned as a result of working with the teachers into their undergraduate classrooms.  And they’re bringing their work with their undergraduates to the teachers.  The “mummy lesson” was a capstone project from four honors students, three of whom went to Dundalk to present to the teachers there.  The Dundalk teachers were so impressed with what they did that they asked for electronic copies so they could use the materials with their students.  Kaplan adds that this demonstrates that the project is a partnership in the true meaning of the word.  “Everyone benefits –- the teachers, their students, the three of us, our students, our colleagues.  We have something that’s working -– teachers and school systems need a solution and we’re providing it.”  The three faculty members are now working on presenting their professional development activities as a national model that other school systems, and universities, can follow.  They’ve already presented at the College Forum Annual Conference.

Becoming a mummy is just a fringe benefit. 

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