SMU Honors Jill Allor by Naming Her a Distinguished University Professor

Distinguished University Professor Jill Allor, Ed.D, Department of Teaching and Learning

Provost Elizabeth Loboa has named Teaching and Learning Professor Jill Allor a Distinguished University Professor for her excellence in teaching, researching, and community service. Allor is one of two SMU faculty members recognized this year for the highest levels of academic achievement.

The honor is based on recommendations from deans and endorsed by the Office of the Provost. The University Distinguished Professorships were created in 1982 by SMU’s Board of Trustees to celebrate outstanding faculty members, who receive cash awards of $10,000 per year and are appointed for a five-year rolling term.

Since arriving at SMU in 2004, Professor Allor has developed and maintained a highly productive research agenda across a broad range of topics within her field: structured literacy tutoring for elementary readers, alternative assessment models for students with intellectual disabilities and below average IQs, and approaches for promoting literacy among pre-school level readers.  She is a former special education teacher whose research is school-based and focuses on reading acquisition for students with and without disabilities, including students with learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities.

She has published 31 peer-reviewed journal articles and seven book chapters. During her time at SMU she has received $7 million dollars in external research funding and has presented at 65 conferences.

Professor Allor has taught a broad range of courses, including literacy, assessment, quantitative methods, curriculum/instruction, and special education.  She has also supervised Simmons’ doctoral students through dissertation.

Throughout her SMU career, Allor has maintained a strong commitment to service – to Simmons, SMU and the national community. In Simmons, for example, she served as chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning for nine years.

Allor received her Ed.D. in special education with an emphasis on reading and reading disabilities from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Prior to arriving at SMU in 2004, she held faculty appointments at Florida State University and Louisiana State University.

Learn more about her work here:



Dominique Baker Delivers Evidence Brief on Pandemic Strategies for EdResearch Recovery Project

Dominique Baker, Ph.D., Education Policy and Leadership

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Results for America announced the new EdResearch for Recovery Project, which will provide rapid-turnaround evidence briefs from top researchers to help answer the most pressing education-related questions from policymakers, educators, parents and other advocates as they respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the project launch, the Annenberg Institute and Results for America released the first three evidence briefs, one of which is co-authored by Simmons Assistant Professor Dominique Baker with Sade Bonilla (University of Massachusetts at Amherst) and Celeste K. Carruthers (University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The brief   synthesizes ways to support and guide students moving into their post secondary education.

“This project responds to a direct ask from education decision makers to better synthesize research in ways that respond to the needs of the moment,” said Nate Schwartz, Professor of Practice at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute. “Starting with a series of crowdsourced questions from leaders at the state and district levels, we enlisted some of the nation’s leading researchers to develop rapid-response briefs that clearly lay out the evidence base to guide current decision making.”

The project is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.






Ketterlin Geller and Lyle Colleagues Discuss NSF Research on Gaming for Teaching STEM and Computing

Simmons Professor Leanne Ketterlin Geller and co-principal investigators at the Lyle School, Associate Professor Eric Larson, and Assistant Professor Corey Clark, talk about the impetus behind their $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant allowing them to develop a videogame to teach computational thinking. Computational thinking should begin in Pre-K and followed through Grade 12, but as Ketterlin Geller notes getting students engaged in math and science is difficult.

In a recent article featured in Lyle Now, they discuss how their inspiration to use a Minecraft-based game for teaching came from the literacy game Simmons, Guildhall, and Literacy for Texas collaborated on for the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy X-Prize competition. The game won the grand prize, and Clark says, “We figured if educational gaming can help teach literacy concepts, why not use it to teach math, science and computational thinking by converting it into Minecraft?” Clark, also deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, is an education gaming expert who constructed the X-Prize game.

SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development Professor and Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education Leanne Ketterlin Geller

Ketterlin Geller says the research team is speaking to local school districts about potential collaborations. “Having student and teacher voices in the ultimate design and dissemination of the project will help with its implementation, longevity, and sustainability.”

Their feedback is essential because the team is striving for key education outcomes such as engaging in gameplay; changes in students’ interest, attitudes, beliefs and self-efficacy in STEM+C; involvement in collaborative, open-ended solutions; and achievement in related computing and mathematics concepts. Research for this project began last fall and continues through 2022.

Virtual Community Meeting for West Dallas STEM School Set for June 8, 2020

You are invited to attend a virtual community meeting to discuss plans for the new West Dallas STEM School at Pinkston. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 8, 2020, online at Dallas Independent School District representatives will be in attendance to make a presentation and answer questions about the project. Spanish translation will be available. Dallas ISD’s planning for the school has been done in partnership with Toyota USA Foundation, SMU Simmons, and the West Dallas Community.

Faculty Promotions in Simmons

With the conclusion of the spring semester the Simmons School is happy to announce the following faculty promotions:

Congratulations to Michael Harris (Education Policy and Leadership) who was promoted to Full Professor, and to Sushmita Purkayastha (Applied Physiology and Wellness) and Meredith Richards (Education Policy and Leadership) who received tenure and were promoted to Associate Professors.

Clinical faculty promotions include four who moved from Clinical Assistant to Clinical Associate status:  Roxanne Burleson (Education Policy and Leadership), Greta Davis (Dispute Resolution and Counseling), Amy Ferrell (Teaching and Learning), and Diane Gifford (Teaching and Learning).  Three faculty were promoted from Clinical Associate to Clinical Full: Margaret Jacome (Dispute Resolution and Counseling), Misty Solt (Dispute Resolution and Counseling, and Ashley Tull (Education Policy and Leadership). Plaudits to them.

Personal Immigrant Experience Shapes Research for Doris Baker

Associate Professor Doris Baker, Department of  Teaching and Learning, is featured in a podcast, Empowering ConverzationZ with Mehran Sourourian, speaking about her own experience as an immigrant from Latin America.

Baker was born in Brazil and also lived in Colombia and Mexico before she migrated to the U.S. Her transitions from country to country impacted the way she sees the world and herself. These experiences shaped her interest in academia, including her research in bilingual education. Listen to her interview here.


Inside Higher Ed Seeks Insight from Dominique Baker on the Opening of College Campuses

In an article published by Inside Higher Ed, Assistant Professor Dominique Baker offers her perspective on proposed openings of college campuses during COVID-19. She cites the unknowns, given the uncertainty of how long the virus remains, and the consequences of quarantines. Read the article here.

Dominique Baker, Ph.D., Education Policy and Leadership

Baker specializes in education policy and her research focuses on the effects of higher education access policies on students, particularly those who are underrepresented within higher education.

Dallas ISD Names Master Principal Marion Jackson to Lead New STEM School, Opening in Collaboration with Simmons, Toyota USA Foundation, and West Dallas Community

Marion Jackson

Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD) master principal Marion Jackson has been named to lead the West Dallas STEM School – an educational collaboration of the district, Toyota USA Foundation, Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the West Dallas community.

Known for her innovative and transformative leadership, Jackson brings a depth of knowledge in STEM instruction to the post. Most notably, she has a track record of closing student performance gaps and increasing academic achievement in reading, math and science as measured by Texas Education Agency standards. Evidence of her forward-thinking approach includes her co-development of a best practice model in mathematics instruction implemented in the Bryan Adams feeder pattern. The model led to improvements in student math performance across several metrics.

For nearly 15 years, Jackson has served the families of Dallas ISD as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. Much of that time was spent supporting students and leading instruction as campus administrator at Martha Turner Reilly Elementary School.

“The positive experiences I’ve received in Dallas ISD and the communities we get to connect with each day are, in part, what makes this opportunity special,” said Jackson. “As we build a foundation for our students to explore all elements of STEM, I have no doubt that with the support of Toyota USA Foundation, SMU and the West Dallas community, our one-of-a-kind campus will fuel the next generation of STEM leaders.”

Experts continue to forecast a robust future demand for workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math. The STEM school’s unique public-private partnership aims to inspire and prepare students for the next generation of STEM jobs through a project-based and business-aligned curriculum.

In 2018, Toyota USA Foundation granted $2 million to SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development to support curriculum development, advise on state-of-the-art educational practices, provide teacher professional development, coordinate partnerships with community nonprofits, and monitor and evaluate the program. The future school will be operated and staffed by the Dallas ISD, whose Office of Transformation and Innovation will co-facilitate the design of the school in collaboration with School Leadership.

The collaboration will also bring together nonprofits, including groups already working with Dallas ISD through the SMU Simmons School program, The School Zone, and partners of Toyota Motor North America. Together, the team will address community issues such as literacy, nutrition, transportation and after-school care – each vital to creating successful outcomes for students and families.

Jackson holds several certifications, including a standard Texas School Principal credential and is certified in special education in grades first to 12. She is a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. She also holds a master’s degree in instructional leadership from Concordia University Texas. Jackson will officially assume the new role June 1 upon completion of the current school year. The STEM school will begin a phased opening in fall 2021.

Spanish version below

Dallas ISD nombra a educadora con amplia experiencia como directora de escuela STEM en oeste de Dallas

La escuela es una colaboración entre la Fundación Toyota USA, SMU y la comunidad del oeste de Dallas; la apertura gradual comenzará en otoño de 2021

Dallas – Marion Jackson, integrante del grupo de directores destacados del Distrito Escolar Independiente de Dallas (Dallas ISD), ha sido nombrada directora de la escuela STEM en el oeste de Dallas — una colaboración entre el distrito, la Fundación Toyota USA, Southern Methodist University (SMU) y la comunidad del oeste de Dallas.

Conocida por su liderazgo innovador y transformador, Jackson brindará su vasto conocimiento sobre la enseñanza STEM a la nueva escuela. En particular, tiene un historial de reducir las brechas en el desempeño de los estudiantes, así como mejorar el aprovechamiento académico en lectura, matemáticas y ciencias, de acuerdo con los estándares de la Agencia de Educación de Texas. Una evidencia de su enfoque innovador es su colaboración en el desarrollo de un modelo de mejores prácticas en la enseñanza de matemáticas implementado en la zona escolar de la preparatoria Bryan Adams. Este modelo dio lugar a mejoras en el desempeño estudiantil en matemáticas en diversas métricas.

Por casi 15 años, Jackson ha servido a las familias de Dallas ISD como maestra, subdirectora y directora. Dedicó una gran parte de ese tiempo a apoyar a sus estudiantes y dirigir la enseñanza como administradora escolar en Martha Turner Reilly Elementary School.

“Las experiencias positivas que he vivido en Dallas ISD y las comunidades con las que estamos en contacto todos los días son parte de lo que hace tan especial esta oportunidad”, dijo Jackson. “Conforme construimos la base para que los estudiantes exploren los elementos de STEM, no tengo duda de que con el apoyo de la Fundación Toyota USA, SMU y la comunidad del oeste de Dallas, nuestra singular escuela formará a la siguiente generación de líderes en STEM”.

Los expertos continúan anticipando una fuerte demanda de profesionales capacitados en ciencias, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas. La colaboración público-privada de la escuela STEM busca inspirar y preparar a los estudiantes para la siguiente generación de empleos STEM a través de un plan de estudios basado en proyectos y que se adapta a la industria.

En 2018, la Fundación Toyota USA concedió $2 millones a la Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development de SMU para apoyar el desarrollo del currículo, asesorar sobre las últimas prácticas educativas, ofrecer capacitación profesional de maestros, coordinar asociaciones con organizaciones comunitarias sin fines de lucro y supervisar y evaluar el programa. La escuela la operará el personal de Dallas ISD, cuya Oficina de Transformación e Innovación colaborará con Liderazgo Escolar para el diseño de la escuela.

La colaboración también involucrará a organizaciones sin fines de lucro, incluyendo a grupos que actualmente colaboran con Dallas ISD a través del programa de la Simmons School of Education and Human Development de SMU, The School Zone y socios como Toyota Motor North America. El equipo tratará temas de la comunidad como la alfabetización, nutrición, transporte y cuidado infantil después de clases—todos vitales para generar resultados positivos para los alumnos y sus familias.

Jackson cuenta con varias certificaciones, incluyendo las credenciales de Texas School Principal y está certificada en educación especial de 1º a 12º grado. Es egresada de la Universidad de Louisiana en Monroe, donde obtuvo la licenciatura de periodismo de difusión. También cuenta con una maestría en liderazgo educativo por la Concordia University Texas. Jackson asumirá su puesto de manera oficial el próximo 1 de junio, una vez se complete el año escolar en curso. La escuela STEM comenzará su apertura gradual en el otoño de 2021.



Barbie Bungee Jumping? Walkington Takes Math Activities for Home to New Heights

Shelter-in-place requirements create new challenges for math learning – for students, parents and teachers working remotely. To help families make math fun and relevant to these times of handwashing, neighborhood walks and togetherness, SMU math education professor Candace Walkington suggests Soap Bubble Magic, STEMWalks and Barbie Bungee Jumping.

Walkington, an associate professor of math in SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, specializes in making math relative and interesting to students. Her research includes engaging students in math by connecting their math skills to careers and outside-of-school interests.

“These activities for kids grades 3-8 are especially educational because the fun truly comes from the math itself being interesting and engaging,” says Walkington. “They also introduce math into the things we’re doing every day as we stay at home and practice social distancing.”

Here are Walkington’s favorites, including links that provided inspiration for her suggestions:

Geopanes: The Mathematics of Soap Bubbles

Since you’re washing your hands all the time anyways, here is another good way to connect with soap and water, masquerading as a fun math activity.


  • toothpicks
  • small objects that can link toothpicks together, such as raisins, marshmallows or clay balls
  • a mixing bowl filled with water and a few squirts of dishwashing liquid

Directions: Use the toothpicks and connectors like raisins to build polyhedrons, which are  three-dimensional geometric solids such as pyramids, prisms and cubes. Once they are built, dip your shapes into the soapy water – and see how the soapy water reveals complex surfaces or “geopanes.”

“If you only try one activity on this list, this one would be my recommendation. What happens when these are dipped into the soapy water is AMAZING! You can also integrate science into this activity by talking about surface tension in water and why the geopanes form as they do,” Walkington says.

Source: AIMS Education Foundation


Create a Math Walk

Here’s a new angle for your “escape the house” neighborhood walk. The walkSTEM® initiative launched by the non-profit talkSTEM, encourages families to go on virtual math walks via video, and create their own math walks in their backyard or their neighborhood.

Supplies: Walking shoes and a measurement instrument (optional)

Directions: Watch a few math walk videos on the talkSTEM YouTube channel as your first step –in particular ones where kids are acting as docents, like this one.

Create your own neighborhood walkSTEM tour. Observe everyday things – trees, roofs, street lights – and come up with questions about your observations. Why are roofs slanted? How tall are street lights? Select one question to explore in depth.

“Make a video of your walkSTEM tour and submit it to the talkSTEM Youtube channel to inspire other families,” Walkington suggests.

Source: talkSTEM


Barbie Bungee Jump

Anytime is a good time for a Barbie bungee jump, but this activity also allows cooped-up kids to work off steam. The objective is to guess how many rubber bands can be combined to create a “bungee cord” that drops Barbie as close to the ground as possible


  • A Barbie doll, GI Joe doll, or other similarly-sized, reasonably-heavy doll (stuffed animals are too light)
  • 15-30 same-sized rubber bands
  • ruler, meterstick or yardstick.

Directions: First, tape a large piece of paper to the wall, with a high point of five or six feet from the floor clearly marked as the Barbie dropping point. Barbie will need to be dropped from this height, so a parent or older brother or sister should help. String the rubber bands together to make a bungee cord for Barbie and attach to her ankles.

Test how far Barbie falls with two rubber bands, three rubber bands, four rubber bands, etc., then estimate just the right number of rubber bands for Barbie to jump, almost touch the ground, then spring back unharmed.

Keep trying until you find the perfect number of rubber bands for the best jump.

“There is nothing more satisfying than choosing the exact right number of rubber bands, and seeing the doll just barely kiss the ground as she bungee jumps, and then bounces back up to safety,” Walkington says.


Source: NCTM Illuminations



Bing Explains to CBS News the Need for More COVID-19 Testing for Getting Back to Work

Dr. Eric Bing, Professor of Global Health, Simmons School

Professor Eric Bing, Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness, is interviewed by CBS News on what Texas needs to do for work to resume. He says more testing has to occur to establish a baseline, otherwise it will be difficult to know about a community’s health, and more COVID-19 cases will rise. According to CBS News, Texas only has tested one percent of the population to date.

An epidemiologist, Bing is a professor of global health in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and in the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at SMU. He previously served with the George W. Bush Institute as senior fellow and director of global health.


Professor Bing speaks to CBS News in a May 7, 2020 follow up report on the re-opening businesses during spikes in COVID-19 cases.