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MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES FOCUS RESEARCH EFFORTS ON IMPROVING K-12 EDUCATION

4/1/2019 - Jackson, Miss.

Everyone supports improving education and there are many programs, initiatives and services that purport to do just that. School leaders are often bombarded with pitches for new approaches. Researchers at Mississippi Public Universities conduct research to separate fact from fiction and determine what works and what does not work in the classroom and beyond.

Delta State University has been improving K-12 education since its founding as a teacher's college in 1924. One current example is through The Delta Center for Culture and Learning's venerable summer workshop, "The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta." More than 600 teachers in public and private primary and secondary schools have participated in free weeklong workshops in this 10-year, $1.57 million endeavor that is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

"Teachers examine the Delta's past and present, experientially and intellectually, focusing especially on the region's place in the civil rights movement and the development of blues music. They listen to local musicians, walk the landscape, and eat regional cuisine at local restaurants; they attend scholarly lectures and panels led by civil rights activists and FBI agents," stated the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), the official advocacy organization for the NEH. "When they return to their classrooms around the country, the teachers bring not only a new appreciation for the Mississippi Delta's role in our national history and culture, but also new methods—focused on food, music, and landscapes—by which to teach regional history to their students."

In February, the NHA shared glowing results of a survey conducted of 137 Most Southern alumni—more than 20 percent of all participants. Feedback was anonymous and unanimous: "This has been the best professional development I have ever attended." "The highlight of a 30-year career." "I came back to my daily life invigorated and transformed." One hundred percent said the workshop helped them grow as an educator, and 100 percent rated Most Southern superior to other professional development opportunities.

Delta State's Department of Teacher Education, Leadership and Research's Administration and Supervision Programs hosted a free School Improvement Forum in March for area superintendents, principals, and other administrators. The well-attended daylong event, offered in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education's Delta State Leadership Pipeline grant and the Delta Area Association for Improvement of Schools, focused on improvement of local schools from the viewpoint of various award-winning practitioners—superintendents, principals, teachers—plus DSU faculty and others.

Delta State's Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research also provides professional development for primary and secondary teachers. It offered a free daylong "hackathon" workshop in January for 6th through 12th grade teachers—a first of its kind in Mississippi. They learned how to teach the economics of entrepreneurship. In February it offered a free daylong workshop on entrepreneurship for special education teachers in the Mississippi Delta. Participants could apply for up to $500 in seed funds to start a classroom-based business.

For six years running, Delta State has offered the Janie Allen-Bradley Literacy Endowment Free Workshop for classroom teachers, pre-service teachers, librarians, and parents. This year's event, held in March, was themed "A Legacy of Literacy" and was sponsored by the DSU College of Education and Human Services and the Bell Academy for Math, Science, and Health Education in nearby Boyle, Miss.

To inspire the next generation of STEM educators and practitioners, Delta State's Continuing Education Department hosts an annual Region III Mississippi Science and Engineering Fair. Grades 1-6 and grades 7-12, respectively, come to campus to display their STEM projects. Judges include Delta State students who receive a real-world experience. Judges are also DSU personnel and community members with undergraduate and graduate degrees, depending on the grade-level projects—furthering campus and town-gown relations. Through assistance from a STEM Pipeline grant from Monsanto Fund, the department works with regional school districts to implement or advance their local school STEM fairs. This grant allowed extensive outreach to the nine-county region, resulting in a 39 percent increase in STEM project participation.

For the past two years, Dr. AHM Ali Reza, associate professor of biology and coordinator of the Wildlife Management Program at Delta State, has offered an economical outdoor youth camp during spring break for children in grades 3-6. They hunt, fish, and pursue nature-related activities, best practices, and cutting-edge techniques. The camp, a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, educates and trains the next generation to appreciate the outdoors while encouraging them to hunt and fish responsibly.

Similarly, Dr. Liza Bondurant, assistant professor of math, and Dr. Lee Virden, associate professor of math, started a Crazy 8s afterschool math club at Presbyterian Day School, a primary school in Cleveland, in fall 2018. Once a week for an hour for eight weeks, students in the upper grades learn to like math through hands-on activities such as glow-in-the-dark geometry, bouncy dice explosion, and toilet paper Olympics. The club promotes DSU in the community, serves as a recruiting tool, and provides field experiences for DSU STEM and education majors.

Mississippi State University received the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Mississippi grant from the Library of Congress. The grant provides for statewide professional development for K-12 social studies and English language arts teachers. Additionally, grant co-PIs have collaborated with Mississippi teachers to develop primary source infused lesson plans for Grades 3-12 aligned to Mississippi standards. These lesson plans and other resources for teaching with primary sources are available on the TPS Mississippi website.

Mississippi State also has a program to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in the classroom. Capacity Building StATE-STEM: Strengthening and Advancing Teacher Education in STEM is a collaborative capacity building proposal between the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, COE, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Starkville-Oktibbeha School District and enters into a mentoring relationship with the University of Kentucky's Noyce Scholarship Program PI.

This cross-institutional and cross-college team aims to systematically gather and analyze recruitment strategies, barriers to program retention, and teacher candidates' demographics including diversity of candidates, as well as the characteristics of STEM teachers who have remained in the classroom. MSU faculty have partnered with teachers in the West Point Consolidated School District to focus on struggling readers in first through fourth grades.

Funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, the program uses place-based curriculum co-created between MSU faculty and West Point teachers to build an after school program focused on reading to learn and learning to do. This past year, the project served 155 elementary-aged students, and the project has been awarded for the next two years.

The COE's Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program (METP) students volunteer at MSU's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic in order to attain real-world experience for supporting students with autism and developmental disabilities.

The MSU World Class Teaching Program (WCTP) is a university-based initiative designed to recruit and support teachers seeking advanced certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The WCTP is currently gathering data related to mentor effectiveness, certification rate, candidate retention rate, WCTP candidate success, and the effects of district support. Data are currently being analyzed from MSU's WCTP candidates who represent 46 school districts in Mississippi.

Mississippi State's GenCyber Program is part of a larger strategic effort to recruit more students into the computer and cybersecurity fields. The state of Mississippi provides a large recruitment base of underserved students, most residing in rural areas with limited access to computing extracurricular activities.

The Bulldog Bytes GenCyber Workshops have three primary goals:
  1. Increase cybersecurity knowledge and awareness in ways which align with teachers' respective content standards;
  2. Promote appropriate pedagogical practice which can be used to engage students in problem solving, collaborative and cooperative learning, and critical thinking skills vital to solving cyber challenges; and
  3. Plan lessons that integrate cybersecurity concepts in teachers' classrooms bridging cross-curricular content to cybersecurity topics.

University of Mississippi researcher Angela Rutherford, Ph.D., is conducting a a statewide study that seeks to ensure that university faculty responsible for preparing the next generation of K-3 teachers for literacy instruction are using the latest scientific research and best practices on how to teach reading.

The study is funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and conducted in partnership with the Barksdale Reading Institute. Faculty within UM's Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction are currently in the second year of this three-year project. An essential component of this project is the training of university-based teacher education faculty who are charged with preparing the state's education workforce.

Led by faculty within the UM School of Education under the direction of Alicia C. Sapp, Ed.D., new research examines how taking regular "Brain Breaks," which are organized, movement-packed learning activities that break-up traditional lectures, can increase energy, motivation and retention for teacher education students.

Early findings suggest this teaching strategy may be more effective than traditional lectures. This research is inspired by UM's Wellness and Physical Activity Endorsement program, which seeks to train future educators to incorporate movement into K-6 curricula and is based on the latest brain science research. Since 2017, the program has placed graduates in seven Mississippi school districts. UM faculty are also following these graduates to evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction.

A recent study in SAGE Open breaks down the way YouTube portrays content concerning the portrayal of public education in videos. University of Mississippi researcher Burhanettin Keskin, Ph.D. conducted the content analysis that found that the popular video streaming site, with more than a billion users worldwide, uses an algorithm that pushes videos with a negative portrayal to the top of search results (67.8% of content in the first three pages). The popular study opens up a conversation for educators on the importance of teaching critical thinking, especially concerning media, in the K-12 classroom today. The study received one of SAGE's Editor's Choice awards in 2018.

Realizing Excellence for ALL Children in Mississippi (REACH MS) is a federally-funded State Personnel Development Grant awarded to the Mississippi Department of Education and operated through a cooperative agreement with The University of Southern Mississippi. Since its inception the grant has primarily focused on K-12 positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) and has been extended to juvenile detention centers and group homes in the last few years.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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