2021 Fall 2021 News

Fighting the ‘COVID slide’ with one-minute tests

When the pandemic forced her kindergartners online during the 2020–21 school year, teacher Michelle Davis ’21 deployed quick reading assessments to assist with keeping their learning on target.

Last year at F.P. Caillet Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District, Davis used a program called DIBELS to test a range of literacy skills. Students read grade-level passages to display such competencies as identifying letter sounds and comprehending text. The assessments take about one minute and are typically done at the beginning of the school year and continue every few weeks until the end.
“We need to assess the students to know where they are developmentally,” says Davis, who received her master’s degree in bilingual education from SMU in May.
This kind of rapid, low-key test can be an essential tool for teachers as they try to help our communities’ youngest students catch up and remain motivated to learn.
Training teachers to use these tests has been a focus for Diane Gifford, clinical associate professor in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
“It’s increasingly important that teachers offer these assessments and determine where weaknesses are,” she says. “Early assessments should be part of school whether or not there’s a pandemic. Every year, teachers get in a new batch of kids, and they need to know what is happening with those kids.”
Last year a lot of the assessments had to be done virtually. “That’s not ideal,” particularly for younger students, Gifford says.
Regular evaluations have become even more vital as youngsters returned to more traditional classroom settings this fall. Davis now teaches third grade at Caillet, and the learning gaps are even more pronounced. None of her 44 students reads at grade level.
“Right now, it’s figuring out how to keep them from falling even farther behind,” she says. “It’s a huge challenge.”

2021 Fall 2021 News

Launching a new model for community collaboration

The pathbreaking partnership igniting an innovative model for pre-K–8 public education marked a milestone in August when the new West Dallas STEM School welcomed its first students.
The new school is the result of more than three years of collaboration between the Dallas Independent School District, SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, the Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community. Every step – from the beginning of the public-private partnership to what’s happening at the school today – is being documented by Simmons School researchers and educators to codify a process that can be successfully duplicated in other Dallas schools and, eventually, across the nation.
From the beginning, bringing neighborhood stakeholders to the table was crucial to understanding the needs and aspirations of the families served by the school, which is housed in the L.G. Pinkston High School building, a West Dallas landmark. The STEM school launched with seventh and eighth grades this year and will eventually enroll students in pre-K through eighth grade.

Science teacher Elizabeth Blue-Allen, the school’s STEM curriculum coordinator, leads project-based lessons with students working in teams.

Simmons School faculty provided their expertise in developing the project-based, industry-informed STEM curriculum meant to inspire and prepare students for college and careers in a rapidly changing world. That readiness also requires addressing issues outside the classroom that can derail learning.
“Wraparound” academic and social services will be delivered by local nonprofits directly to students to help with such issues as literacy, nutrition and after-school care.
“Together with the community, we have worked on everything from building design, teacher development, curriculum and before- and after-school care. This extends also to addressing broader community needs, including access to transportation,” says Sean Suggs, director, Toyota USA Foundation and group vice president, Toyota Social Innovation.

“We want our students to learn new ways of
thinking and find the best solutions to emerging
challenges. For this to happen, guidance is essential,
so we have created strong professional learning
groups for teachers so they can advance, too.”

– Stephanie L. Knight, Leon Simmons Endowed Dean of the Simmons School


01   Shaping the STEM school
02   Watch: Key partners’ perspectives
03   Watch: Transforming education
04   Watch: Virtual groundbreaking
Prior to the school’s opening this fall, the Toyota USA Foundation approved a grant of $3 million to SMU, adding to the $2 million grant the foundation awarded in September 2018. This is in addition to Toyota’s teacher and community grants, West Dallas scholarship and mentorship programs, and the recently launched transportation circulator in the area.
The school’s innovative ecosystem recently received another boost from business leader Carter Creech ’60, an SMU alumnus with a passion for education philanthropy, who pledged an additional $3.5 million, following his initial gift of $1.5 million to the project. Creech’s contribution will go toward a new middle school career and college readiness pilot program at the school, as well as efforts to replicate the West Dallas STEM School.
Master Principal Marion Jackson has described her school as “the jewel of West Dallas.”
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for the students and community of West Dallas,” Jackson said during the virtual groundbreaking for the school in May. “This partnership has afforded us the space to realize what’s possible when we focus our collective efforts on changing how we meet the needs of our students and families.”
As the model school continues to take shape, Simmons School educators and researchers will work alongside DISD teachers on state-of-the-art educational practices, professional development, and continuous monitoring and evaluation of the program.

2021 Fall 2021 News

Mark McCoy’s Maps for Time Travelers shows modern archaeology in action

For digital age archaeologists like Mark McCoy, hands-on research often means using drones that can map far-flung landmarks in a matter of hours; creating 3D models that reveal stunning structures lost for thousands of years; and deploying scanning systems that reveal sites without lifting a trowel.
McCoy harnesses an array of data-rich tools to unearth new discoveries, and he is bringing his findings to the public in a fresh way. His latest book, Maps for Time Travelers: How Archaeologists Use Technology to Bring Us Closer to the Past (University of California Press, 2020), recently earned the 2021 Popular Book Award from the Society for American Archaeology, who called his approach a “first of its kind.” An associate professor in the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, McCoy joins a prestigious list of winners that includes the late Lewis R. Binford, SMU Distinguished Professor of Archaeology, considered one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th century.

In his new book, Mark McCoy takes a novel approach to explaining modern archaeological practices in action. Photo by Elizabeth Lavin.

Blending fictional storytelling and scholarly research, McCoy’s book taps into readers’ imaginations to show modern archaeological practices in action. It’s engaging and educational, lauded as “a brilliant introduction to the frontiers of archaeology … lucid, entertaining and highly informed in the art and science of geospatial archaeology” in the spring 2021 issue of The Journal of Interdisciplinary History.
McCoy understands the power of a good story. He was hooked by the film exploits of Indiana Jones as a kid growing up in Delaware, but his intense curiosity about history fueled his future. Before he even entered college, he was already fascinated by fieldwork.
“I was very fortunate to have been on my first dig when I was a teenager,” McCoy recalls. “It was at a Boy Scout camp in the Pocono Mountains. The camp was founded on what was an old tannery town built just after the Mexican War. We were just a bunch of kids scraping the ground, but it was a heck of an experience, and it certainly left a great impression on me.”
On his journey from teenage explorer to award-winning researcher, McCoy earned his Ph.D. in 2006 from University of California, Berkeley and soon became a leader in the field of geospatial archaeology with a regional focus on islands of the Pacific. After a stint at the University of Otago in New Zealand, he was recruited by SMU for his interdisciplinary expertise.
“SMU has an established department and a strong reputation in archaeology specifically,” says McCoy. “It was an easy ‘yes’ to SMU.”Reconstructing ancient societies is no easy task, but McCoy is revealing details once lost to time while training a new generation of archaeologists. Three anthropology Ph.D. candidates from SMU are currently working on their own research under his supervision: Adam Johnson and Spencer Lambert in Hawaii and Samantha Lagos in New Zealand. He also advised undergraduate anthropology major Joseph Panuska ’21, recipient of the Edward I. and Peggy C. Fry Award for Academic Excellence in Undergraduate Anthropology, whose senior honors project involved fieldwork in Hawaii.
McCoy keeps the focus of his research on the humanity of both the people he’s learning about and his students.
“The past is populated with real people, and if I can help create for students that kind of empathy that we often lack for each other in the present, then curiosity will follow naturally.”
Chris Kelley is a veteran journalist and founder of The Kelley Group, a Dallas-based strategic communications company, and a fellow at the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at the Lyle School of Engineering.