Julian Curtiss teachers head ‘Down Under’ to give lessons
GREENWICH — Teacher Mary O’Connor has neither desks nor chairs in her classroom at Julian Curtiss School in Greenwich, which surprised other participants at an international education conference in Australia.
“They’d never seen classrooms like that,” said Bronwyn Ewing, a committee member of a STEM in education conference that was recently hosted by an Australian university. “A lot of classrooms in Australia are not conducive to that.”
O’Connor and Julian Curtiss teacher Sarah Grandinetti flew to Brisbane in November for the conference sponsored by the Queensland University of Technology. There, the Greenwich teachers championed recent changes in the district to make learning math personal — including comfortable, flexible seating — and toured two Australian schools.
Such enrichment opportunities for teachers could be affected after deep cuts in the funding for professional development, including conference stipends, in the proposed Greenwich Public School operating budget for 2019-20.
Currently, the district reimburses tuition, travel or lodging for educators who present at conferences, Greenwich Public Schools’ Chief Academic Officer Irene Parisi said in an email. For the Julian Curtiss teachers, QUT covered some of the costs.
“Given the significant reductions, we have to evaluate how to proceed for the next school year when our teacher colleagues present at conferences, be them state, national and international,” Parisi said.
She expects the district will only fund registration fees, but every conference will be reviewed case by case.
The connection between Julian Curtiss and QUT happened by chance while Ewing was visiting her daughter, Estée McMahon, and her two granddaughters, Madeleine and Isabelle Hunt, who live in Greenwich.
McMahon spoke highly of the chair styles, including a wiggle chair, that allow Madeleine to move and improve her ability to focus.
O’Connor is pleased with how her students conduct themselves in a classroom without traditional furniture and seating charts.
“They do a good job of self-regulating, understanding the right place to sit to optimize their learning,” she said.
Ewing asked O’Connor to share how her teaching style keeps students engaged at the STEM in education conference, and she managed to secure funding for the two teachers.
“These Greenwich teachers are being recognized on an international stage for the work they do,” McMahon said. “Quite often now, educators fly under the radar; they don’t necessarily get acknowledgment they should.”
The teacher was encouraged to see Greenwich was a leader in this topic at the conference, she said.
Presenters also focused on the importance of computer coding, Grandinetti said.
“Many keynote speakers spoke about the importance of coding, and how technology, especially artificial intelligence, is shaping how industry is going forward and the jobs that might be available in the future,” Grandinetti said.
Districtwide efforts to make learning personal have succeeded, but in the future, educators should tie in more coding, she said.
O’Connor returned from the conference ready to implement Swift playgrounds, an iPad app that teaches students to code in Swift — a language many Apple app developers use — and iOS code, which is used for Apple products. She is certified to use it but has not yet.
Ewing, who also teaches math to marginalized students from indigenous populations in Australia, came away from the experience interested in creating a partnership among QUT, Greenwich Public Schools and a nearby university to research new ways to teach math to diverse and at-risk populations.
“The idea is that we get all these kids on the bus for learning, which means on the bus for life,” she said.