Reimagining the MAT Teacher Preparation Curriculum

On the heels of introducing our new education major and education minor programs, the Colorado College Education Department is in the process of redesigning its Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) curriculum in time for the 2015-16 academic year. Over the past few decades teacher preparation curricula have been based on the behaviorist/scholarly/academic model of teacher preparation, which places mastery of content area first and foremost.

By contrast, Colorado College’s restructured MAT curriculum employs a learner-centered model which emphasizes a developmental perspective and the learning of pedagogy in order to be a great teacher of one’s discipline. The new CC MAT model focuses on teacher dispositions as well as identifying personal characteristics and mechanisms that lend themselves beyond mere survival and toward teacher “thrival” in the classroom.

The learner-centered model of teacher preparation is another example of CC’s Education Department being on the cutting edge. Other institutions such as the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are looking to our redesign as a model for restructuring teacher preparation, featuring an undergraduate major in education paired with a learner-centered graduate program.

Screening of “Fire in Our Hearts”

“Fire in Our Hearts” features and is directed by a young woman in India. The film is about the barriers preventing young women in India from receiving an education.

The film was created through BYkids, a non-profit organization based in New York City that pairs young people aged 8-21 with renowned filmmakers to create short documentary films that explore globally relevant social justice issues from the perspective of the child. The founder and Executive Director of BYkids is Holly Carter, a CC graduate. Ms. Carter will be present at the March 23 screening for a Q and A session after the film.

Fire in Our Hearts  Monday, March 23 at 7 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

Fire in Our Hearts Monday, March 23 at 7 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

“Black Like Me” – CC Students Experience Life on an HBCU Campus

Dr. Manya Whitaker had two goals in mind when she designed her course, “The Tradition of African American Education and the Black Bourgeoisie.” First, demonstrate that the purpose and process of schooling looks different outside of Colorado College. It looks different in different locales and is experienced differently by different people.

Second, include a Black History component to the course. Since there were no Black History courses at Colorado College, Whitaker decided that the course would be more powerful if it took place at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). (Black History courses at CC will be offered regularly beginning in 2015-16.) While there, her students would visit African American churches to experience them as centers of activity that gave rise to HBCUs and the civil rights movement.

The National Civil Rights Museum. The Exhibit path ends with the Lorraine Motel, both the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and the presumed site from which his killer is presumed to have fired shots.

The National Civil Rights Museum. The exhibit path ends at the Lorraine Motel, showing the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was standing at the time of his death.


Nashville, Tennessee was an ideal setting for the course because of its unique intersection of race and class. The city is home to Fisk University, an HBCU attended by children of elite or bourgeoisie black families, and instrumental during the Civil Rights era. Working class black families sent their children to Tennessee State University, and Meharry Medical College continues to graduate more than 50% of African American medical doctors in the U.S. Interestingly, the first one to six presidents of all HBCUs were typically wealthy white men associated with the Baptist or Methodist Church; the HBCUs themselves were founded with missionary dollars.

The Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

The Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

CC students take line dance class at a Nashville area church. Participant ages ranged from high school to 83 (woman at front in purple shirt).

CC students take a line dancing class at a Nashville area church. Participant ages ranged from high school to 83 (woman at front in purple shirt).

Whitaker’s students spent just over three weeks living in dorm rooms at Fisk University and attending classes with HBCU students at both Fisk and Tennessee State. When they were not attending classes, the CC students visited African American churches, the National Civil Rights Museum, and sampled soul food at four different restaurants.

The CC students experienced a number of takeaways as a result of the course:

They came to understand what it is to live as “othered,” and for their “otherness” to be recognized as the primary characteristic that made them a minority in the HBCU community. For example, a student with blond hair felt it necessary to clear her hair out of the shower drain because everyone would know it was hers. Upon return, many of Whitaker’s students found themselves feeling more compassionate towards their fellow (minority) students at Colorado College.

Institutional Heritage: HBCU students’ strong relationship to their institution. HBCU students’ sense of institutional heritage extended well beyond having knowledge of their university’s history and traditions. They viewed going to college as a privilege. As representatives of the African American community they felt a shared responsibility to do well in school and to give back to their community. The Colorado College students had never experienced people their own age with such a strong sense of collective responsibility, nor had they experienced such a strong fluidity between the community and the universities.

CC Dean of Students Mike Edmonds joins the ED250 class for soul food and fellowship.

Colorado College Dean of Students Mike Edmonds joins the ED250 class for soul food and fellowship.

Soul Food, and More Soul Food: Biscuits and gravy. Sausage, bacon, and barbecued ribs. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, grits, and greens – always cooked with ham. And. No. Gym. Whitaker’s students initially loved soul food. Then they realized how fattening it was. The vegetarians in the group became painfully aware of what it was like to live a place where their cultural norms were not accessible. As the students ate their way around town, they found favorite dishes to sample at each establishment. One student made it his mission to try the barbecue ribs at every restaurant.

Respectability Politics: CC students had difficulty coming to terms with the highly prescribed codes of conduct at HBCUs that were both unspoken and highly publicized. Posters on campus delineated appropriate attire for different audiences and occasions. It was understood that sex before marriage was strongly discouraged, to the extent that those – especially women – who did not follow protocol were greatly disparaged in campus gossip circles. There were rules for everything from how to present oneself with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or the number of visitors per room permitted in the dorms. What seemed like an infringement of student freedoms at Colorado College could also be interpreted as a code of behavior designed to produce personal and professional success in HBCU students who are expected to give back to their community.

When asked whether there were any unexpected results from the course, Dr. Whitaker identified the process of reflecting on her role as a professor. She discovered that having a shared experience and shared cultural reference with HBCU students meant not having to self-monitor the cadence of her speech, vocabulary and even body language as she does in non-HBCU environments. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Fisk cafeteria every day during lunch, when students danced the hour away to a DJ playing trap music, a subset of hip-hop. A pleasantly surprised Whitaker remarked, “It was nice to feel my personal and professional lives overlap in ways I never would have anticipated.”

From the success of this year’s course in Nashville, Dr. Whitaker plans to offer the course on a regular basis every other year.

Student Reflections
The Black Experience: As Told By Nashville,” video by Melissa Seehausen and Erin Luby

Alumni Update: Hannah Widmer ’14

Hannah Widmer found her calling soon after graduation from Colorado College with a minor in Education Studies and a major in English. As an Education Advocate Specialist with The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region, she assists parents, teachers, and administrators designing special education plans (IEPs) for students struggling to succeed in general education classrooms. Hannah says of her new career, “I meet inspirational students and their parents who passionately care for their educational experience. There is an impressive number of teachers, therapist, health care workers and support staff that make up the services for those with I/DD. It has been a pleasure getting to network with people who share the same compassion and vision for acceptance of all people. There are many opportunities in Colorado Spring to get involved in the lives of children or supporting those in need.”

Hannah Widmer '14

Hannah Widmer ’14

In addition to providing IEP design support, Hannah plans events for both school age children and for adults with disabilities. She now teaches a workshop entitled “Facilitating Friendships,” based on her education capstone about supporting student with special needs. Hannah credits her time volunteering in Colorado Springs area schools as an undergraduate, which subsequently allowed her to establish relationships with the same teachers and schools when she became an advocate.


Introducing TREE: Teaching and Research in Environmental Education

Catamount Center and the Colorado College Education Department are proud to announce a new stage in their partnership: the TREE Semester.

TREE SemesterTeaching & Research in Environmental Education is a 16-week residential semester program that mirrors the traditional study abroad experience. During blocks 1 through 4 (August through December) in the fall of 2015, undergraduate students will live and learn in community at the Catamount Center near Woodland Park, CO.

The TREE Semester is for students interested in exploring both environmental and educational fields, to become inspired and to in turn inspire their students’ environmental stewardship and love for the natural world.


Photos courtesy of Catamount Center:

Where the block or traditional semester program provides only limited interaction time, the TREE Semester allows undergraduates to monitor their K-12 students’ development through almost 100 hours of experiential teaching.  In keeping with the learner-centered model driving the CC Education Department’s curriculum redesign, undergraduate students will learn about learning by simultaneously teaching and researching how K-12 students learn.

TREE participants working with 5th grade students

TREE participants working with 5th grade students

Along with opportunities for current undergraduates, the Catamount Center is also looking to hire recent alums and other qualified individuals with a Bachelor’s degree for a four-month residential TREE Fellowship Program. TREE Fellows will provide support to  undergraduate students enrolled in the TREE Semester and play a vital role in the sustainable TREE Community. TREE Fellows should have experience and enthusiasm for environmental science and outdoor education. As part of the fellowship, TREE Fellows will work towards certification as a Colorado Environmental Educator (pending CAEE portfolio completion). Applications for the TREE Fellowship are due no later than March 31. Fellows will be selected by April 15.

For more information on the TREE program, please contact Jared Mazurek, Catamount Center Program Director:

Student Research on Visual Literacy to be Presented at International Science Education Conference

Education Department Chair Mike Taber is excited to be presenting a research paper he co-authored with two education majors, Elizabeth Benedict and Elizabeth Waterman.

Dr. Taber will present “The Cognitive Development of Visual Literacy for Scientific Symbolic Problem Solving” at the New Perspectives in Science Education Conference in Florence, Italy in March, 2015.

The paper examines the extent to which novice scientists (i.e. students just learning science) are able to holistically interpret data. Where is the science learner’s level of visual literacy in terms of spatial thinking, recreating visual representations of information in visual format(s), and communication of complex patterns?

The preliminary study examined how well participants employed visual literacy skills in solving a symbolically driven problem.  Results showed that participants who possessed greater linguistic skills as well as spatial observation and reasoning skills were more likely to correctly identify all seven elements on the unknown cube face.

Elizabeth Benedict

Elizabeth Benedict

Liz Waterman

Liz Waterman









Congratulations, Elizabeth and Liz!

Tina Valtierra Joins Education Department

The Colorado College Education Department extends a warm welcome to Dr. Kristina (Tina) Valtierra.

Tina Valtierra, Assistant Professor in Literacy Development

Tina Valtierra, Assistant Professor in Literacy Development

Dr. Valtierra came to the CC Education Department in the fall of 2014 as a visiting assistant professor. More recently, she was hired into the tenure track position of Assistant Professor of Education.

A graduate of the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education, Valtierra’s doctoral dissertation is entitled “Beyond Survival to Thrival: A Narrative Study of One Teacher’s Career Journey.” Her research explored the characteristics that distinguished an outstanding and thriving middle school teacher from her peers across numerous school districts in the Denver area.

In a new topics course entitled Critical Perspectives in Public School Innovation, Valtierra introduced education students to innovative schools in the Denver area. The class examined public school innovation through a critical socio-cultural lens of income, gender and race.

As part of the Education Department curriculum redesign, Valtierra will teach three new education courses in 2015-16: ED425 Innovations & Social Justice in Public Education, ED477 Culturally Responsive Teaching and Disciplinary Literacy Methods, and ED478 Advanced Methods: Critical Pedagogies in Literacy, Curriculum and Instruction.

Catamount Institute 2014 Fall Symposium

The Colorado College Education Department maintains a longstanding partnership with the Catamount Institute. Every year, the ED Department helps to cultivate young minds by hosting Catamount Institute’s Young Environmental Stewards for their Fall and Spring Symposia. Below are photos from the Symposium on December 13, 2014, held at Bemis Great Hall on the Colorado College campus. Photos courtesy of Catamount Institute.

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