About Eldrin Deas

Public Policy

Listening, literature and community engagement: Wynton Marsalis on music education

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

“But, overall, I think the main thing a musician would like to do is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe. That’s what music is to me—it’s just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that’s been given to us, and here’s an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is. That’s what I would like to do. I think that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life, and we try to do it in some way. The musician’s is through his music.” —John Coltrane

One of my earliest introductions to jazz music was on The Cosby Show. In episode 6 of season 4, Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable and Clair Olivia Huxtable, Esq. dine romantically to the sounds of a John Coltrane rendition of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mooda song which, according to Ellington, was written in Durham, NC. In previous episodes, we see Dizzy Gillespie portray music teacher Mr. Hampton and see a poster of Miles Davis in Theo Huxtable’s room—both in season 1. One other poster caught my eye in Theo’s room; namely, that of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Wynthon Marsalis is a composer, bandleader and educator. He is a 9-time Grammy Award winner, the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the only artist to win Grammy Awards for five consecutive years for musical contributions. Marsalis currently serves as the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and tours with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

In his own words

After a lively and engaging performance at UNC’s Memorial Hall on February 10th, I got a chance to speak with Mr. Marsalis about the current state of music education. He offers the following suggestions to music educators:

1. Help kids develop their ears

“Teachers need to reflect in their teaching. Music is all hearing. They can’t be afraid of the oral method.” In Moving to higher ground: How jazz can change your life, Marsalis writes, “Jazz musicians have to listen and communicate. You have absolutely no idea what the other musicians are going to improvise, so you’re forced to listen” (p. 22). He continues, noting that people follow the music as it is being born, which requires “each person to listen and speak with the same intensity.” Marsalis believes that this development of the ears will help connect students to the spirit of the arts, which he believes is the absolute essence of humanity.

2. Use the literature

Marsalis explains, “The literature is the most important thing, because literature is what you’re playing. And literature doesn’t mean just what’s written. It’s what you teach them. I have a list of 50 essential songs people should know. If you have students, and they don’t know any of your folk music… they don’t know any gospel music… they don’t know any blues… they don’t know any popular songs—and I’m not even dealing with jazz… just all music. If you teach kids, and they don’t know any of that music—they don’t know any American music—you’re not really teaching them anything.”

He continues, “You got Duke Ellington; you got Eric Copeland. You got certain great titans. They should be trying to learn—or prepare to learn—their music. Kids go out to play basketball or football… and they’re 9. They play with the same rules… these are 8-year-old kids… 9-year-old kids. They don’t have to have boundaries. I always make the point to people that play music that when we were 12 and 13 years old, we were butchering Beethoven’s music and butchering Haydyn’s music. It doesn’t make a difference how good you play it; it’s that the literature is going to teach you how to play it. Then, when you’re 14 and 15, you can play.”

3. Build community

Marsalis notes, “The third thing I would say for teachers in this era is that it’s important for bands to be community. You need to play a lot more performances. That three or four performances a year for parents—and brothers and sisters who are forced to go to the concert—no… we’ve been doing that for 30 years… 40 years. It hasn’t yielded anything. You’ve got to get out in malls; you’ve got to get out in picnics, parks, prisons, parades and old folks’ homes. Be in a place where kids can understand the impact of their music; not just some solo competition or football game where nobody is really paying attention to what you’re playing… or the Christmas concert or Easter concert. You’ve got to make it be a part of the overall life.”

Moving to higher ground

Marsalis’ push for a focus on listening, literature and community engagement is by no means isolated to my conversation with him. According to Arts, rhetoric, and swing: The writings of Wynton Marsalis, one of Marsalis’ goals is to shift the paradigms of educational systems so that students can more readily engage in creative, artistic, communal and scholarly pursuits.

In a forthcoming article, Reshaping American Music Education in the 21st Century, Marsalis discusses aims and purpose in music education and the role that stakeholders play. Visit wyntonmarsalis.org and jalc.org for updates and more information.

Infusing career relevance with CareerStart

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”           —Nelson Mandela

In 1994, Nelson Mandela remarked that no one in his family had ever attended school. He recalled his first day of school and how his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him his name. This name would eventually become known around the world. Mandela’s education jumpstarted his career in activism and politics. Dr. Dennis Orthner, a Professor of Social Work and Education and the Director of the CareerStart Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, leads an effort to expose other students to career possibilities that they, much like Mandela, may have never considered.

What is CareerStart?

According to Dr. Orthner, CareerStart is a program for infusing career relevance into the core curricula in middle schools (math, science, language arts, and social studies).

Dr. Dennis Orthner

Dr. Dennis Orthner

Career-linked lessons illustrate course content with applications to future careers, including those in the industries represented in the labor markets in which the schools reside. Students in classrooms operating with CareerStart principles regularly get answers to those often-asked questions: “Who really uses this information in the real world?” and “When will I ever really use this information when I leave school?”

A November 2012 evaluation explains the rationale for CareerStart, citing research on value-expectancy and possible selves theories. The basic hypothesis Orthner and his colleagues used was that students who received more job and career illustrations from their core teachers in math, science, English and social studies would:

  1. Report higher psycho-social engagement in and valuing of their educations;
  2. Demonstrate fewer behavioral problems that might interrupt their education;
  3. Record higher test scores in their core subjects;
  4. Maintain improved academic progress in high school; and
  5. Gain more credits toward graduation.

Orthner believed that these outcomes would lead to higher rates of school retention and lower dropout rates. CareerStart data—as reported in the January 2013 issue of The Journal of Educational Research—indicate that students in the program were indeed able to see the relevance of their education and were more likely to believe that school is important and to behave in ways that support their engagement. Evaluation results also show that for students at the end of 8th grade, those who were in the CareerStart program scored higher in reading and math than other students studied.

Want to know more about CareerStart?

Just like Nelson Mandela may not have known his career path when he first started school, many students may not know themselves. However, the key is to expose students to a variety of career options and to let students know that there are so many possibilities. To learn more about the program, read CareerStart: A proven approach to middle-school success. So, teachers, what careers will you help start?

Researcher bio

Dennis Orthner is Associate Director for Policy Development and Analysis at the Jordan Institute for Families. His professional interests include human services design and evaluation, public welfare and family policy and issues concerning military families.

“All of life’s riddles”: Using films as texts in the classroom

Dr. Jim Trier

Dr. Jim Trier

“You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies – all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” —Steve Martin

Movies? Really?

Movies often represent a reflection of our society. Our thoughts, feelings, successes and struggles are captured in many forms on screen. From musicals to comedies to mysteries to science fiction—and everything between and beyond—films are more than just collections of images. They are powerful texts that can be critically examined. Dr. Jim Trier, Associate Professor and English educator at UNC’s School of Education, understands this power and uses it to expand students’ theoretical horizons.

In his Spring 2013 Critical Social Theory and the Media course, Dr. Trier provides students with a general introduction to the field of cultural studies and explains key intersections between cultural studies and the field of education. One main strand of this course involves studying in-depth concepts and critical social theories that have been central to both fields.

Using films as texts in your classroom

In an article titled Exploring the Concept of ‘Habitus’ with Preservice Teachers Through the Use of Popular School Films (published in Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education; March 2002), Dr. Trier explains how he introduced complex ideas by having pre-service students read selected print materials and by having them view, analyze and respond in writing to popular school films. His students also analyzed their experiences in classrooms in terms of these complex ideas, drawing connections between theory and practice. English teachers could have their students analyze movie adaptations of books and discuss any differences they see.

Don’t let English teachers have ALL the fun though! Based on Dr. Trier’s work, here are a few ideas for using films as texts in your own classroom:

  1. For history and social studies teachers: have students write an ideological analysis of one or more popular culture texts—films, television programs, music videos, magazine advertisements, television commercials, etc.—based on ideas covered in your curriculum.
  2. For art and music teachers: have students view and analyze documentaries about visual and performing arts and allow them to present their ideas to the class.
  3. For science and math teachers: have students create a media text such as a video collage that critically examines key theoretical concepts.

Of course, any of these ideas can be used in other classrooms as well when an appropriate film is selected and approved by your school leadership. Start answering life’s riddles today!

Researcher bio

Dr. Jim Trier earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and joined the UNC School of Education faculty in 2001. Dr. Trier is interested in designing critical methods to engage pre-service teachers in theoretical explorations of various important educational issues by considering─simultaneously and in juxtaposition─academic and popular culture texts.

Dynamic teaching through dynamic visualizations

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

“The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.” —Marshall McLuhan

The world of education is deeply tied to the world of technology. As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan predicts in his 1962 work The Gutenberg Galaxy, computers are now used as enhanced tools for conducting research and connecting people all around the world. This has enabled educators worldwide to deliver lessons in new and creative ways. Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, is particularly interested in improving these creative methods and studies ways to make them more efficient.

In a recent article, Can dynamic visualizations improve middle school students’ understanding of energy in photosynthesis? (2012), Dr. Ryoo and co-author Marcia Lynn explain that dynamic visualizations have the potential to make abstract scientific phenomena more accessible and visible to students. The authors also note, however, that these visualizations can also be confusing and difficult to comprehend.  In an effort to show how dynamic visualizations, as compared to static illustrations, can support middle school students in developing an integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis, Ryoo and Linn studied 200 7th-grade students. These students completed a web-based inquiry unit that encourages students to make connections among energy concepts in photosynthesis.

Static vs. dynamic

When we hear the word static, we often think of a shock between our fingers and a metal object or how our clothes may embarrassingly cling together. However, a simple explanation of static is that which relates to something at rest or not in motion. So, a static illustration could be a picture we might see on a page in a textbook or on a wall in a science classroom. Dynamic, on the other hand, is related to things that are in motion.  So, a dynamic visualization could show what happens from start to finish in a chemical reaction through a computer simulation.

The 200 students Ryoo studied were randomly assigned to either a dynamic or a static web-based inquiry group. Her research found that students in the dynamic group were significantly more successful in articulating the process of energy transformation in the context of chemical reactions during photosynthesis. Students in the dynamic group also demonstrated a more integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis by linking their ideas about energy transformation to other energy ideas and observable phenomena of photosynthesis than those students in the static condition.

Calling all science educators!

At LEARN NC, we believe that teachers can be researchers and that research should inform teaching. So, here are some ideas from Dr. Ryoo to kick-start your own dynamic visualization study:

  1. Explore an example of a dynamic visualization.
  2. Then, take a look at a static illustration of the same concept.
  3. Give students a pre-test on the material you want them to understand.
  4. Create your own animations (Scratch is a good place to start).
  5. Take screen shots of key concepts; create a static illustration.
  6. Have your students explore your visualizations, then complete a post-test.
  7. Report your results. You have the power!

Researcher bio

Dr. Ryoo received her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design with a specialization in Science Education from Stanford University, where she also earned her M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology. She received a bachelor’s degree in Health Education from Ewha Womans University in Korea. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology design, science education and culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She studies how the use of technology can support science teachers’ practice and scaffold diverse learners’ science learning.

Building bridges and breaking boundaries: Exploring African American male literacy

“Where there is a will, there is a way.” –Tupac

For those who may not know, Tupac Amaru Shakur was a major proponent of literacy. However, many young African American males do not share Tupac’s passion for reading and writing. A recent report explains that much of the discourse regarding literacy and African American male youth focuses on raising test scores and closing the purported achievement gap but contends that literacy plays a much larger role. Specifically, literacy “is connected to intellectual growth, agency, voice, identity, resiliency, resolve and a positive life trajectory.”

Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell

Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell, a professor in the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, coordinates UNC’s school library media program. In June 2012, Dr. Hughes-Hassell organized the Building a Bridge to Literacy summit at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, NC. The summit focused on three areas: Research (what is known about the literacy development and needs of African-American male youth and additional gaps that need to be filled); Programs & Services (what programs and services work to support the literacy needs of African-American male youth and what gaps exist); and Resources (what resources are needed to enable school and public libraries to effectively address the literacy needs of African-American male youth). Students from North Carolina Central University’s Centennial Scholars Program, UNC-Charlotte, and one high school student joined literacy and library experts from around the country in an effort to call local communities and libraries to action.

So… what can teachers do to promote literacy?

Summit participants suggest the following action items:

  1. Create and sustain a dialogue between African American male students and their teachers. Be open to their honest evaluations.
  2. Train Black male students to be part of the dia­logue: involve them in advocacy, social action, and educational reform efforts.
  3. Write publishers to demand culturally relevant texts featuring diverse characters, and have your students write as well.
  4. Emphasize writing as an essential element of literacy. Have your students write often, and share your own writing with them.
  5. Do your own action research within your school or classroom. Publish the results to let the educa­tion community know what is working and not working.
  6. Involve parents in the literacy education of their children. Educate them about their role and give them the tools to advocate for change.

For more information on literacy and African American male youth, visit the Building a Bridge to Literacy website.

Researcher bio

Dr. Hughes-Hassell’s research focuses on the information needs and behaviors of urban teenagers. She also researches multicultural literature and its role in the literacy development of children of color and library services and programs for underserved populations. She is currently co-leading a series of professional development workshops for public school librarians in Durham, NC focusing on Alfred Tatum’s book Reading for Their Lives and is the Co-Principal Investigator on a research project funded by an ALA Diversity Grant.


The future of history: Documenting the American South in the classroom

Natalia "Natasha" Smith

Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. As Head of the DocSouth digital publishing program, Natalia “Natasha” Smith manages the sixteen thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs currently housed at DocSouth.

Along with a wealth of primary resources, DocSouth also supplies teachers, students, and researchers at every educational level with a wide array of titles they can use for reference, studying, teaching, and research.

Resources for teachers

DocSouth resources help students develop inquiry, comprehension, and synthesis skills. Advanced Placement teachers may find these resources particularly useful as they help their students work through document-based questions (DBQs). Sample topics include United States History, North Carolina History, and African American History. As a LEARN NC partner, DocSouth is committed to connecting teachers with materials that enhance student learning.

Sample lesson plans:

Children at Work: Exposing child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas

Desegregating public schools: Integrated vs. neighborhood schools

Spirituals and the power of music in slave narratives

Slavery across North Carolina

LEARN NC understands the vital role history plays in shaping the future. To help shape a better future for students, teachers, and researchers, LEARN NC is working to bring more DocSouth materials to its collection of resources. Stay tuned for more updates at the LEARN NC homepage.

Researcher bio

Natalia “Natasha” Smith is Head of the Documenting the American South and the Digital Publishing Group at the Carolina Digital Library and Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While at UNC, she has successfully sought, authored, led, and managed eighteen externally funded projects that helped disseminate Carolina research and new knowledge and provide for public benefit. Several of those grants are given by federal agencies, most notably the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. Smith has closely collaborated with cultural heritage institutions in North Carolina, the United States, and other countries.

Visit DocSouth online for more information on using southern resources in the classroom.

Starting from Scratch: Using gaming to teach social justice

Dr. George Noblit

The School of Education at UNC is dedicated to preparing educational leaders who are committed to values of equity and excellence. George Noblit, who teaches Social Justice in Education, believes that gaming is a tool that can be used to help students engage these issues.

The Social Justice in Education course examines how education can help create more fair and just societies, ultimately contributing to high-performing educational systems internationally. Students explore multiple perspectives on social justice; examine efforts at local, state, national, and global levels; and learn to articulate efforts in classrooms and schools with wider community initiatives. The course offers a thorough examination of the role of social justice in education. As Noblit explains, “Reducing inequalities requires working across sectors of life, and thus technology is now playing a major role in fostering access to knowledge and its interpretation.”

Students in the course develop knowledge of educative technologies as they work on social justice issues with the expectation that they will be able to use this knowledge to promote learning.

A game, you say?

According to Noblit, “Educational gaming involves both mastery learning and constructivist learning. Students will be asked to use a theory of how social justice-related knowledge, perspectives, dispositions, competencies and/or actions develop. These theories will become the basis of educational games that teams of students create.” Students will also develop games to teach specific content in P-12 curricula using Common Core Standards for use with future students.

The platform for game design is Scratch, a programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. Scratch is a product of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and receives financial support from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Google, Iomega and MIT Media Lab research consortia.

Why use Scratch?
Like Dr. Noblit, you can use Scratch to enhance learning in your classroom. Here are some key features that make it ideal for educational use:

  1. The Scratch platform does not require extensive programming knowledge, so teachers do not have to worry about a steep learning curve. Scratch users include both elementary and doctoral students along with many students who fall in between.
  2. Students who create games to teach content are more likely to retain the content themselves.
  3. Teachers and students can connect educational content from internet sources by inserting links into games they create.
  4. Over 2.8 million Scratch projects have been created to date, so users can browse through other projects to get ideas that promote learning. Design tutorials are also available to get new users started.
  5. Scratch is free and available to the public. Users can download the platform (on both PC and Mac operating systems) at scratch.mit.edu.

The Social Justice in Education course will culminate in a gaming evening where the games are played by others and assessed on the effectiveness of the game in teaching the content. Also, LEARN NC staff will review the games for possible inclusion as resources for parent, student, and teacher use.

Researcher bio:

Dr. George W. Noblit is the Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education. Since 1995 Dr. Noblit has been the series editor for Understanding Social Justice, Education and Policy (Hampton Press). He studies the various ways knowledge is constructed and how the competition over which knowledge counts constructs powers and difference. Through a study of school desegregation, he began a program of research on the social construction of race, using ethnographic research to study schools and other educational scenes. Dr. Noblit is intrigued with how knowledge—often taken as good in its own right—is implicated in creating the very problems it is asked to solve. He is coeditor of Late to Class: Social Class and Schooling in the New Economy (SUNY Press).

A full biography can be found on the UNC School of Education website.

A breath of FreshAiR: Educating through augmented reality

Dr. Matt Dunleavy

According to Matt Dunleavy, assistant professor of instructional technology at Radford University, augmented reality is the future of education. Augmented reality refers to an experience in which a live, physical environment is enhanced by computer-generated content. Company co-founder Daniel Burgess explains, “FreshAir is a web-based editing platform we developed for users to be able to take their smartphones, walk into an environment, and have a totally new experience.”

The team at LEARN NC recently took the technology for a test drive. Equipped with seven smartphones—both Android and iOS models—Dunleavy and Burgess led LEARN NC staff to McCorkle Place for a live demonstration. The sample program highlights three UNC-Chapel Hill landmarks: Davie Poplar, Silent Sam, and the Unsung Founders Memorial. At present, FreshAir relies on GPS navigation systems and Google Maps integration to identify where a user is located. As users approach the first stop on the virtual tour, the phones vibrate to signal an area in which an augmented reality experience is available.

Daniel Burgess

Information about all three preloaded sites is informative and enriching. For example, a user can stand in front of Davie Poplar while using FreshAir to view a picture of the historic tree as it stood in 1900. Users also learn about the complex and controversial histories of Silent Sam and the Unsung Founders Memorial through videos and recorded narration.  Teachers and professors can add content for an unlimited number of sites world-wide.

Using FreshAiR with your students

  1. Students can tour their school/campus guided by teacher-loaded content.
  2. Students can create their own content for use within the app.
  3. The platform promotes kinesthetic learning and engages students.
  4. Teachers can assess students’ acquired knowledge through in-app quizzes.
  5. Advanced gaming features using conditions and logic allow for more complicated tasks and scaffolding.

Developed at Radford University, funding for the FreshAiR platform was provided through a research and development program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The platform has been tested as far away as China and will be available as a downloadable app on Google Play and App Store markets in the coming weeks.

Read the article “Montgomery County students seek to ‘augment’ reality” to see an example of how teachers use FreshAir to enhance student learning.

Visit www.playfreshair.com or email the FreshAiR team at contact@playfreshair.com for more updates as they become available.