Dr. David Hessl, project PI at the University of California at Davis, and site PI’s Dr. Karen Riley, Dean and Professor at the Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver, Dr. Elisabeth Berry-Kravis at Rush University, Drs. Richard Gershon and Aaron Kaat at Northwestern University, and Dr. Craig Erickson from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital were awarded the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health grant of $3,921,088. Dr. Jeanine Coleman Associate Clinical Professor in the Teaching and Learning Sciences department at the Morgridge College of Education, is co-principal investigator. Drs. Korrie Allen, Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama will also be engaged in the project at the DU site. The grant will span five years, October 2020 – September 2025.

A multi-university team has been evaluating the utility and sensitivity of the National Institutes of Health Toolbox – Cognitive Battery (NIHTB-CB). Standardized cognitive and educational assessments of individuals with intellectual disability (ID) provide crucial information for parents, researchers, and educators. Understanding the unique developmental strengths and challenges of an individual with ID is imperative to determining appropriate educational placements, developing intervention plans, and measuring growth. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research regarding administrative procedures that yield valid standardized assessment results with this population, which this project serves to rectify.

In addition to evaluating the NIHTB-CB as an appropriate assessment for ID in general, the results demonstrate the sensitivity of the battery to known syndrome-specific cognitive phenotypes. A critical remaining question is the degree to which the battery is sensitive to change, especially to effects of intervention as such the team is currently collecting longitudinal data on all participants so that they can create typical trajectories and so that change can accurately be measured. Studies of the performance of the battery in older adults with ID are needed, especially focusing on those experiencing cognitive decline or dementia. Overall, the present validation study represents an important step toward providing an objective, scalable, and standardized method for successfully measuring cognition and tracking cognitive changes in ID. This award is the second for this team of researchers and extends the initial study.

Dr. Riley said “The importance of this type of research cannot be overstated. We need to have effective tools to measure the groundbreaking interventions that are currently being developed and implemented. The individuals with ID deserve our best work in this area, as it could literally be life changing for them and their families.”

Pictured above: Dr. Karen Riley (top left), Dr. Jeanine Coleman (top right), Dr. Doug Clements (bottom left), Dr. Julie Sarama (bottom right).

Dr. Norma Hafenstein, Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair for Gifted Education and Full Clinical Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver, was awarded the United States Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education 2020 Grant Program grant of $2,845,155. Dr. Kristina Hesbol, Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at the Morgridge College of Education, is co-principal investigator. Dr. Robert Reichardt, Senior Associate at APA Consulting, serves as project evaluator. The grant will span over five years, October 2020 – September 2025, to implement I-REECCH: Impacting Rural Education through Expanding Culturally responsive curriculum, Computer science training, and Higher order thinking skills.

The goal of I-REECCH is to significantly increase identification of and services to underrepresented gifted and talented student populations in rural Colorado. This includes students eligible for free and reduced lunch, English language learners and students who identify as Hispanic or Native American. Classroom practices will be improved through increasing rural faculty ability and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy, computational thinking, higher order thinking skill development, and talent and giftedness recognition. All students in I-REECCH elementary schools will participate in a computer science/computational thinking module by the end of fifth grade.

Dr. Hafenstein stated, “Consider the Spanish speaking little boy who has taught himself to read in English…clearly a demonstration of ability! How do we recognize his giftedness and talent? How do we serve his strengths so that he may reach his potential? As educators, our purpose is to improve the lives of children and families. We recognize the disproportionality of gifted and talented student identification and service. This Javits award supports collaboration with rural partners for cooperative tangible action in identification of and service to rural Colorado gifted and talented students learning English, who are Hispanic or Native American, or who are under-resourced. We look forward to partnering with rural educators in implementing this important work.”

I-REECCH will partner with Fort Morgan School District, Santa Fe Trails Board of Cooperative Educational Services and schools in rural southwest Colorado. Advisory Board members include Dr. Rebecca McKinney, Director of Gifted Education at the Colorado Department of Education; Dr. Terrence Blackman, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics at the Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York; Dr. Joy Esquierdo, Associate Professor, Department of Bilingual and Literacy Studies and Director of the Center for Bilingual Studies at The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, Professor of Educational Administration and Executive Director of Urban Education Initiatives at The Ohio State University. Dr. Kimberly Schmidt and Dr. Brette Garner, both professors at the Morgridge College of Education, will serve as faculty consultants and content advisors.

What in the mind of a professional stage or screen actor sets them apart from a typical, non-acting person? A new study published by professors Dr. Denis Dumas and Dr. Peter Organisciak in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver — in collaboration with Michael Doherty, a professional actor affiliated with Actor’s Equity Association — set out to answer that question.

In this study, more than 20 psychological tests focused on creative thinking, personality, and motivations were administered to three different groups of participants: professional actors, undergraduate student acting majors, and adults who were not actors. The participants’ responses to these measures were entered into a machine learning model, the goal of which was to identify the actors just on their psychological characteristics. As it turned out, the model was able to identify actors with a 92% accuracy solely on their psychological data, a stronger finding than the researchers ever expected.

Key psychological characteristics identified the actors from the non-actors in this study. In particular, both professional and student actors were identified based on their higher levels of openness to new experiences, extraverted assertiveness, and their elaborative capacity to expand on a creative idea. At a finer grain level, the professional actors were further distinguished from the undergraduate students based on their higher levels of original thinking, neurotic volatility, and their more regular engagement in literary activities such as writing and reading scripts.

“In the future, the findings from this study may be useful for individuals who are considering a career in acting to determine whether or not their psychological characteristics match with the demands of the profession,” Dumas says. “Within university education, this study may help acting coaches and directors to tailor their instruction and feedback to the specific attributes their students may yet need to develop.”

This study also shows how much can be accomplished when research is produced through interdisciplinary collaborations where a member of the community being studied (a professional actor in this case) is deeply involved in the research.

Pictured above: A scene from “Something Wicked: Shakespeare’s Macbeth” a production of DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, which ran from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10 last year.

Earlier this year, Chalkbeat Colorado brought its annual Legislative Preview to the Morgridge College of Education where panelists discussed Colorado education policies and topics expected to arise in the January legislative session.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, Chalkbeat journalists circled back with legislators and educators to revisit these topics in an online event co-hosted by the Morgridge College of Education.

Returning panel members included:

  • Erica Meltzer, moderator and Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief
  • State Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver
  • State Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument

And new panel members included:

  • Mark Sass, State Director for Teach Plus Colorado and a high school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star School District
  • Taylor Davis, CEA fellow and music teacher in the North Park School District in Jackson County

Over 140 attendees joined as panelists discussed education challenges around remote learning and education access that have surfaced with the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges discussed included equitable access to education and resources, what school leaders and policymakers should prioritize, school evaluation and accountability systems, standardized testing, and more.

Watch the full livestream of the event below or on our Facebook.

Oct. 2, 2020 — Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer in her poem “Holding What Must Be Held” writes: “Down by the river we sit and talk. / When I think I can’t ache any more, / the world serves more heartache.” I can think of few better words to describe my sense of broken-heartedness in this era of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matters marches for racial and social justice, and the climate crisis. I know in my life there are daily talks about the trials we face individually and collectively. Network TV and radio brings to light all that is lost when another person dies from the coronavirus. I have my stories of pain and loss. I hear similar stories from colleagues and friends. We “sit and talk”. We willingly carry the burden of each other’s sorrow, providing a brief moment of respite. That is what it means to be in community. When we rise from the riverbank, we find that all around us the world is hurting. Its people are suffering. The rate of animal and plant extinction is rising. Social institutions are struggling to hold the fraying fabric of society in one piece. Schools and teachers who are historically a place of social cohesion are saddled with the difficult task of serving the learning and social emotional interests of students while also facing a deadly viral pandemic. The call to care for students seems to run headlong into the requirements of social distancing in a virtual classroom. In Zoom, teacher and students are reduced to small boxes, walled off and separate. Most teachers I know are tired, frustrated and just want to share a classroom space with their students. The language of burnout no longer seems adequate to describe this moment. And still the “world serves more heartache”. We just want to be together; to see each other.

It seems that the question is not when will the heartache end, but rather are there ways to both hold our collective pain while also turning toward new opportunities? The pain is real. The loss of so many lives is real. The longing of teachers to teach in the living-presence of their students is real. To say that change is in the air seems like an understatement. Sacred cows that once were nearly unassailable are now falling to the wayside. Take for example online education. Not that long ago the resistance to teaching in virtual classrooms was high. And now it is more common than face to face learning. Think of all the opportunities that are now open that were once closed to teachers and students. There are yet to be explored avenues for advancing equity, justice and diversity in schools. For me there is a newness and freshness that only a pandemic, a situation no one wanted and that no one can escape, brings to education. It feels like in the midst of broken-heartedness is a kernel of abundance waiting to grow and flourish. We are all in this together, some a little better off and some a lot worse off, but still we are all bound together in ways we have not felt before.

What I fear and seek to resist is the temptation to move quickly from this moment of collective disruption, a pandemic of uncertainty, to a return to the social and educational status quo. I’ve developed a strong response to two words that I hear in the halls of education lately: pivot and normal. Change it seems can run two ways. One path brings us back to the way things once were. A pivot toward the normalness of power and privilege, the maintenance of the status quo. Given the level of uncertainty and the sense of loss experienced by so many, this seems like a reasonable turn to make. If things just get back to normal, if we can just open schools, then we can get back to the job of teaching and learning. But this path also seems dangerous in that in the comfort of normal comes the familiar experiences of injustice, inequity and disempowerment for many. The other path of change leads away from tradition. It favors innovation, imagination, ambiguity and the unknown possibilities of the teacher’s heart. The environmental and social pandemics of our time have created a rift in normal, an opening to newer ways of being together in educational spaces. Heartache is sure to find us no matter which direction we choose. But I choose the kind that leads toward community and empowerment, not individualism and loss of agency. I would like to offer five questions that I think can help educators in making decisions that advance the mission of equity and excellence while resisting the pull back to normal: 1. Who is empowered and flourishing?, 2. Who’s voice is honored?, 3. How is everyone humanized?, 4. Are we listening?, and 5. What are we will to give up?

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