Summer Sessions Promote Engagement, Leadership

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

A workshop focused on K-12 student engagement early in June is the first of several summer activities organized through the College of Education aimed at enhancing the quality of instruction in classrooms throughout the region.

The class on liberating structures is scheduled from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, in Room 201 of the Education Building. Arvind Singhal, Ph.D., the Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston Endowed Professor of Communication, will lead the discussion that he hopes will change the quality of the teachers’ interactions with students.Arvind Singhal, Ph.D., Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston professor of communication, right, discusses Liberating Structures with UTEP staff, students and faculty during a 2012 workshop. Photo courtesy of Arvind Singhal.Arvind Singhal, Ph.D., Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston professor of communication, right, discusses Liberating Structures with UTEP staff, students and faculty during a 2012 workshop. Photo courtesy of Arvind Singhal.

Liberating structures has been around for about 12 years and is an alternative to too much or too little control in the classroom. Singhal, a scholar and practitioner of the concept, said that the opportunity for group interaction can help unleash potential, creativity and the distribution of ideas. The workshop will focus on practical student engagement strategies to boost success and lead to more effective learning conditions.

“I will give (participants) a sense of what it feels like and its implications when dealing with (students),” Singhal said.

Longtime educator Mike Kwan said he may attend the workshop because he likes to learn new and different techniques to motivate his students. The retired Army officer has spent 11 years teaching math to high school students at the El Paso Independent School District’s Delta Academy.

“I think the topic is extremely interesting,” he said during a class break. “It’s important to re-engage at-risk students into the learning process.”

The workshop will be followed by a two-week World Music and Math Camp in July that dovetails into a weeklong leadership forum and summit that involves educators from a Navajo institution in New Mexico and Mayan faculty from universities in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The music, math and technology workshop will be led by Daniel Tillman, Ph.D., and Song An, Ph.D., assistant professors of teacher education, who specialize in this research. They will use Tillman’s Educational Technology Research Lab in the Education Building for the camp that begins July 15. It will involve more than 20 current and future elementary and middle school teachers from El Paso, Juárez and the Navajo Technical College (NTC) in Crownpoint, N.M., about 100 miles northwest of Albuquerque. They will be working with about 15 upper elementary school students from north and south of the border. It is funded through a $20,000 grant from the University’s Interdisciplinary Research Fund.

Some of the Navajo teachers will stay in El Paso to participate in the invitation-only CIRCLE (Cross-cultural Institute for Research, Collaboration and Learning in Education) Leadership Forum, July 29-31, and an open CIRCLE Summit Aug. 1-2 in UTEP’s El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center. They will be joined by a contingent of Mayan educators.

The representatives from the NTC and Yucatan universities were at UTEP on unrelated business several months ago when they met and began to discuss their cultures and being underserved academic populations, said Judith Munter, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Education, who observed the conversation.

Munter reached out to the Seattle-based National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER), which is focused on promoting equity, stewardship and access to education, especially to underserved indigent cultures. The NNER agreed to sponsor the weeklong meeting. The bilingual conference will promote research, leadership and discussions about academic equity and social justice in underserved communities, Munter said.

Presenters at the Leadership Forum will include Singhal; Tim Rush, Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Wyoming who specializes in working with teachers of American Indian children; and Fidencio Briceño Chel, Ph.D., professor and researcher of linguistics at the National Institute of Anthropology and History near Mexico City. He specializes in the Yucatec Maya language and culture.

For more information about the Liberating Structures workshop or the CIRCLE activities, call 915-747-5991.