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Okhee Lee speaks with students after her participation in the 2020 Dean's Lecture Series.

Speaker Lee in conversation with teacher resident Jessica Jones at the reception. Photo by William Belz.

Published February 11, 2020


Speaker series provokes insight, conversation and reflection

Unexpected takeaway: Not every discipline teaches how to build an argument the same

Jessica Jones chatted in the hallway reception with a fellow teacher resident and pondered the consequences of disjointed lessons about how to make an argument. Different disciplines take different approaches. This could confuse students. How could teaching be improved? That was a message from Okhee Lee, a visiting NYU scholar who came to campus to give the penultimate talk in the 2019-20 Dean’s Lecture Series.

“I would have assumed every single argument area would have the same standards,” said Jones, a teacher specializing in adolescent English, enrolled in GSE’s Teacher Residency Program and teaching at Buffalo’s Hutchinson Central Technical High School.

“I want to know what math is doing,” said Coral Lopez, a fellow teacher resident from the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to assume anything.”

As they talked, Lee stepped in to listen. Jones elaborated. “I didn’t realize until today what you were saying – that it was different across content areas.”

Lee nodded and smiled. “I perturbed and provoked thinking,” she said. That, as she had explained in her talk, was one of her goals: Get people to rethink the status quo.

The Dean’s Lecture Series, now finishing its third year, hosts visiting scholars who spend time on campus in informal meetings with faculty and students and deliver a public talk. Organized by early career faculty, the series has one final guest: Antero Garcia, of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, who will speak in 108 O’Brian Hall from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Friday March 6. His talk “Addressing Hope, Fear and Healing” will include recent research about how teachers can use a game like Dungeons & Dragons to encourage storytelling in the classroom.

For Amanda Winkelsas, the mix of professional wisdom and research insight are part of what make the series of visits by people like Lee so valuable.

“She has made her work her research and her scholarship really central to everything about her life,” said Winkelsas of Lee.  “I really love her focus not just on science, not just on emergent bilinguals,” but, she said, “how those pieces fit together.”

Speakers also cover topics that complement the GSE’s work. Beth Ferri, an earlier speaker in this series, a professor of inclusive education and disability studies at Syracuse University was one such example.  “The work that she’s doing is sort of at the leading edge of her field,” said Winkelsas.

Lee’s advice about writing successful grant proposals was particularly inspiring to Sunha Kim, assistant professor in the Departments of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology and Learning and Instruction. Lee, who serves on a National Science Foundation advisory committee, emphasized the importance of highlighting some the NSF’s “10 Big Ideas” funding goals in grant proposals. 

Now Kim and her collaborator intend to make adjustments and clarify how their grant project will tackle the NSF goals like “Harnessing the Data Revolution.” While they had incorporated that idea from the beginning, they hadn’t highlighted it at first. Now the concept will be a clearer element in their plan to address the diversity gap in STEM-related academic research.

 “We are kind of emphasizing those parts more,” said Kim. “It’s very important for us to get exposed to successful grant proposals.”

Tripp, too, has started applying her inspiration from Lee’s talk. She and the Buffalo high school students she works with in an afterschool science club have started conversations about the brown snack bananas.

The great thing about food – fresh, old and headed for the trash – is that it’s an easy part of the school environment. Lee made the point in a summary of her own work with students on analyzing decomposing cafeteria garbage.

“It’s in their everyday experiences,” said Tripp.

So far it seems to be working. Club members have been paying attention to the changes in the banana as it gets browner. As they observe and notice patterns, she will guide them to more critical thinking, come up with questions and find answers. 

“They begin to question now and think more and notice more,” Tripp said. “It’s very affirming and something that leads to, ‘What else can we do?’”

What’s next? she wondered. Juice boxes? “Where can it go from here?” Tripp said. “This is something simple anyone can do.”

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