Institute helps teachers

Leading a growing national trend in professional education development, the Yale-New Haven Teachers’ Institute has joined local New Haven teachers with Yale faculty to develop improved curriculm and engaging teaching methods.

Director James Vivian ’68, who has run the Institute since its inception, is leading the Yale National Initiative, a growing effort to bring similar programs to major cities around the country. The program is receiving help from democratic Senators Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 and Christopher Dodd, who on May 10 introduced a bill to fund the establishment and maintenance of five new teaching programs a year over the next eight years.

“Our present plan encompasses the next 10 to 12 years,” Vivian said. “Our intention is to establish an exemplary teacher’s institute in most states during that time. We know that many states, in order to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, are going to look for innovative approaches to professional teacher development.”

Lieberman said he has been “very impressed” with the Institute.

“I believe the cooperative nature of the Institute, and the involvement of public school teachers in curriculum development, makes it a particularly valuable and effective model for teacher professional development,” Lieberman said.

For the past 27 years, the Institute has aimed to help teachers develop their own curricula that will grab the attention of K-12 students, from fidgety kindergartners to sleepy high school seniors.

As a part of this effort, Yale hosted 45 teachers from 10 states from May to August this past summer to participate in one of five different National Seminars designed to help teachers from around the country write their own class plans and encourage them to push for similar programs in their home cities. The program has already been replicated in Houston and Pittsburgh, and plans are in the works in Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Institute Associate Director Josiah Brown said.

Astronomy professor Sabatino Sofia has taught several seminars over the last 15 years, including a National Seminar last summer titled “Astronomy and Space Sciences.” Sofia said he has been disappointed with teacher development programs in the past, such as Modern Math and Open Classroom, but he said he knew from the start that the Institute was a diamond in the rough.

“I am one of those who thinks that many of the educational initiatives in the past were doomed at the outset and downright foolish,” Sofia said. “I felt that this is a proven, highly successful approach that works. Why keep the concept local? Why not expand to other places?”

Vivian has overseen 598 local teachers complete the five-month curriculum development program, culminating in the development of more than 1,500 different programs of study. About 90 members of the Yale faculty in the sciences and humanities have led more than 170 seminars.

Every March, Yale faculty members lead five to eight seminars for no more than 12 local teachers each on the latest developments in subject matter and teaching methods in their respective fields. The 2005 slate included astronomy professor Sarbani Basu’s “The Sun and its Effects,” African-American Studies professor Ange-Marie Hancock’s “The Challenge of Intersecting Identities in American Society,” and ecology professor Oswald Schmitz’s “Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation.”

The local teachers in each seminar range from instructors at the kindergarten level all the way to high school. The seminar convenes for two hours every week from May to July as the teachers prepare individual curricula tailored for their students.

Ralph Russo ’88, a social studies teacher at Wilbur Cross High School, has participated in several seminars and acts as a seminar coordinator for the Institute.

“Teachers get really excited about writing these because they are your own work,” Russo said. “After putting a little work into it, you realize what’s involved. You get more excited when you teach it.”

The completed programs are published in print and online and are available to teachers across the nation free of charge.

Last year, the Institute’s Web site received more than six million hits from some 800,000 people across the globe, Institute Associate Director Josiah Brown said.

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