CA Curious

Innovation on Vacation

August 24, 2023

Have you ever wondered what our teachers are up to during their summer breaks? Each year, many CA faculty spend their well-deserved summer vacation on professional development opportunities that translate their interests into incredible learning opportunities for our students—in the classroom and beyond. 

Cary Academy offers two major grant programs to support the professional development of our faculty during the summer months: the Friday Fellowship and the Innovative Curriculum Grant.

So, what exactly did our tireless teachers work on this summer through these grant programs?

Kendall Bell, Heidi Maloy, and Charlotte Kelly, Upper School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to interweave DEI work into the chemistry curriculum, incorporating a broader range of scientific, cultural, and professional examples of who contributes to our understanding of chemical concepts, with the goal of giving all students the opportunity to see themselves doing chemistry.

Lauren Bullock, Middle School language arts and social studies teacher, received fellowship funding to participate in the Kundiman summer retreat for Asian American writers.   Participation in the retreat not only helped to sharpen Lauren’s own skills as a writer, but also enabled Lauren to foster connections to the writing world as the language arts team searches for more diverse voices to add to the Cary Academy literary canon and even invite onto campus.

Tamara Friend and Danae Shipp, Middle School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to research and develop a plan for creating a dedicated STEM space in the Middle School building.  Tamara and Danae attended the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference with a focus on sessions and exhibitions related to Makerspace development, and also conducted site visits to local schools and public libraries with Makerspaces. They used the information they gathered to produce a layout and equipment acquisition plan for a pilot STEM space to be housed in a first-floor science classroom, with the goal of having the space outfitted and ready to use late in the first semester or early in the second semester of the 2023-24 school year.

David Kaufmann, Middle School math teacher, received a fellowship to participate in the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference to learn more about supporting student learning through gamification, coding, and technology-enhanced projects that encourage both application and creative expression. David used the conference experience to design three new digital projects for his math classes.

Ty van de Zande, digital arts and coding teacher, received fellowship funding to undertake a visualization project using hand-made glass objects to model fundamental concepts and principles of computer science. Ty produced a set of models built from glass, photos of the glass models, photo documentation of the building process, and a write-up describing the models and how they represent the fundamental processes. Through the photography process, the glass models can be combined and arranged with other glass models to represent a real computer code program. 

Crystal Bozeman, Middle School learning specialist, and Katie Taylor, Middle School language arts teacher, received a collaborative grant to create a “Leaders in Literacy” program to support Middle School students in developing their literacy skills, especially reading and writing. The new program focuses on teaching the science of reading and writing and strategies that will work across texts, emphasizing hands-on activities that give students active and engaging ways to build their literacy skills.

Kara Caccuitto, Upper School English teacher, received grant funding to develop a new English elective for juniors and seniors on Magical Realism. The majority of anchor texts in the new course are of Latin American origin, giving students a chance to explore the art, history, and culture of this part of the world.  Students also have ample opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of magical realism through a variety of creative self-expression activities, including producing a podcast, compiling an electronic cookbook, and developing a poetry or song anthology.

Sam Krieg, Upper School Spanish teacher, received a grant to develop a new Spanish elective focused on Spanish for business use. The course provides opportunities for students to communicate with professionals from throughout the Spanish-speaking world representing a range of commercial endeavors, including hospitality, banking, agriculture, and education. Students also have the chance to learn about, and reflect on, the (in)equalities of business relationships at different levels and to explore the essential roles of immigrants in different commercial contexts.

Kristi Ramey, Upper School math teacher, received grant funding to create a new model for Calculus 1 that expands access to the course content by creating both a regular and an advanced pathway within the same class. Kristi’s work focused on creating appropriately differentiated assignments and assessments to meet the needs of both groups of students, as well as appropriate supplemental materials for those students opting to pursue the AP exam.

Erick Crepsac, Middle School math teacher, was selected to participate in the Teachers Across Borders Program in Southern Africa (TAB-SA). Erick was part of a team of American math and science teachers who traveled to South Africa during the summer to conduct curriculum-specific workshops with their South African colleagues from rural schools, sharing methodology, techniques, and pedagogy in STEM content areas.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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Where PomPoms Meet Professional Development

November 17, 2022

I certainly didn’t expect organizers waving pompoms enthusiastically in welcome or debating the merits of jellybeans versus chocolate with a complete stranger (shout out to Houston Kraft for this icebreaker) when Kevin Rokuskie first described the Association of Middle Level Educators Conference (AMLE).

As it turns out, there may have been nothing that could have prepared me for the sheer explosive energy of thousands of middle school teachers and faculty combined into one convention room, ready to connect and share their passion for educating the world’s preteens.

Held November 3 to November 5 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, AMLE featured a weekend jam-packed with moving keynote speakers, rotating “speed session” workshops, and illuminating presentations on everything from social emotional learning to community engagement to the very tools helping to keep our classrooms running.

Prior to our arrival Kevin and I had spent weeks preparing our presentation on last year’s brand-new virtual reality in Egypt activity, “History Made Real: Learning Ancient Civilizations and World Religions in Virtual Reality.” For 15 minutes at a time, we would explain to other educators and administrators how the collaboration between a sixth-grade Language Arts and World Cultures teacher and an Education and Technology Support Specialist resulted in a week of some of the highest student engagement all year using a combination of Z-Space, VR headsets, and MERGE Cube technology. To our delight, our table ended up becoming one of the most popular attractions during the speed sessions, resulting in meeting a university professor who was excited to learn from us how to implement VR into her post-secondary curriculum.

Our strategy for the rest of the conference was to divide and conquer, so while Kevin engaged in meaningful conversations with various vendors as well as attended sessions on advisory and social emotional learning, I found myself learning about social studies frameworks, how to better support our gender expansive students, techniques for total classroom participation, self-paced learning, how to support children with ADHD challenges (from a teacher who had been successfully navigating his own ADHD for decades), empowering youth with restorative justice practices, and many sessions on community partnerships.

Every day it continued to amaze me to see the degree of knowledge, care, and expertise with which these presenters talked about their curriculum and student support, and I left the conference filled to the brim with a desire to challenge myself in my teaching to new professional heights. Kevin describes professional development as a “vital tool at Cary Academy” that “only makes the community better.” I know that I speak for both of us when I say that I cannot wait to find ways to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and look forward to returning, maybe with my own pompoms this time!

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher, Sixth Grade


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Reflections on AsEA

April 14, 2022

Legendary Asian American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama once said, “Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.” Ironically, it’s often when I gather with people under the banner of a shared identity that this sentiment truly comes alive, and I realize how intricate and vast the human experience really is.

From March 25th to March 27th Leya Jones, Isa Oon, and I all had the privilege of sharing space with other Asian American educators at the Asian Educators Alliance (AsEA) National Conference in Newport Beach, California. From the very beginning, the conference clearly communicated an intent to coalesce as a community first, rather than leaning into the academic atmosphere that comes both with the setting and the content. Conveying this tone may seem easy on the surface, but as someone with the experience of organizing over a dozen national and international conferences, I know that it’s one thing to mouth “community” and it’s quite another thing to physically relax into communion with strangers from across the country.

I’ve spent my whole life being the only Black, white, and Vietnamese person in the room, so I’ve come to expect that a room will be filled with more of Emily Style’s proverbial “windows” than “mirrors” to my experience. While “Asian American” began as a political term meant to unify various people groups experiencing similar oppression, in recent times it’s been appropriated to stand for an easy checkbox in the diversity list that erases the multiplicity of identities it is meant to stand for, often reducing us to singular representations.

At the AsEA conference, however, not only were there a myriad of Asian Americans represented in origin but also in skin tone; you could look around a room at any given moment and witness the vibrant rainbow of pale to tan to deep brown that reflects the reality of those of us in the global majority. As Jolina Clement mentioned in the “Multiracial Identity: Hyping the Hyphen” workshop, there’s a real privilege in being “in a space and not [having to] explain why I get to be in a space.” Often it was difficult to tell who was a keynote speaker, organizer, workshop leader, teacher, or student in the space, creating a climate of openness and adding a real authenticity to the moments of sharing.

This impression not only imbued the optics of the space, but also the content. The theme, “Radical Re(Imagining) of Asian America: From Myth to Truths,” created a shared metaphorical and literal landscape for both dispelling harmful myths (such as the Model Minority) and reconnecting to pre-colonial understandings of our world, often connected to “myth” and folklore. In “Hyping the Hyphen” we broke down the notion of multiracial Asian Americans as a recent phenomenon, tracing historical records back before the Chinese Exclusion Act and leaning into thinking of multicultural experience as pluralities, not fractions. In “Return to Our Cultural Psychologies to Disrupt the White-Dominant LGBTQ+ Spaces and Narratives” Lilia Cai and Maria Graciela Alcid interrogated what it means for us as educators to hold space for both our own and our students’ intersectional identities without forcing them to fit into narratives that were not built with us in mind. In “We Are Not Monoliths: From Essentialism to Panethnicity” Ricco Siascoco continued the conversation on what it means to have a shared identity that forges connection but can also erase vital disparities between cultures.

Student programming was also a highlight of the conference, involving multi-day workshops with educator and writer Dr. Liza Talusan who challenged participants to dig into what they wanted to build knowledge, engage in reflection, and then move to action to determine 1. what their respective schools needed to start doing, 2. what their schools needed to stop doing, 3. what needed to change, and 4. what needed to continue. This experience culminated in a final share out where students’ voices were centered, reading each other’s work to protect privacy while being able to voice their concerns candidly with their teachers in the presence of other educators. It provided a key reminder that our job as teachers is a continuous push for positive change centered on the needs of future generations in conjunction with ours, a reminder that the age-old translation of I love you, “Did you eat yet?” is a call to both feed ourselves and our students, together.

Written by Lauren Bullock, Middle School Language Arts teacher

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If at first you don’t succeed…

February 17, 2022

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of a good design challenge—one that taps into students’ intrinsic motivation, encourages experimentation and problem-solving and treats failure as an essential part of the path to success.

The wheels started turning for me (literally) at the recent ISEEN Winter Institute in Arizona, where I had the opportunity to step out of the teacher role and experience a design challenge as a learner. The project:  to build a rocket car that would be launched at high velocity directly into a wall but allow its passenger, a raw egg, to survive the impact. Judging from the scorch marks on the chassis my partner and I were given to begin the task, there were going to be actual flames shooting out the back of this vehicle.  And judging from the yellowish goo dried to the wall that was our target, there were going to be some spectacular fails in this process. I was hooked!

My partner and I took about an hour to design and build our first prototype, and with our aerodynamic egg basket secured to our chassis, we hoped that we had that ideal combination of speed, aim, and cushioning to protect our egg and win the race.

Alas, we did not. 

The speed was good, the aim was decent, but poor little Eggbert suffered a serious shell fracture. No yolk splattered on the wall, but still, not the outcome we wanted for our fragile passenger.

If this had been a one-and-done type project, we might have earned a C+ for the vehicle we created. But because this was framed as a design challenge, we were instead encouraged to reflect upon our results, make changes, and try again. And that’s where the learning process really took off.

My partner and I began our reflection by reviewing a video of our launch, using the hash marks on the ground and the video’s frame rate to calculate our average speed and our acceleration, and from there, we were able to approximate our speed at impact. This led to conversations about air friction, kinetic energy, potential spring energy, and heat. In short, all kinds of concepts from math and physics were coming to life as we considered ways to maintain our speed, improve our aim, and perhaps most importantly, better protect our little albumen friend.  Not only was I totally engaged by this activity, but I find that I am still able to recall most of what I learned that day precisely because it was anchored in such a memorable hands-on experience.

A couple of weeks after the rocket car challenge, I came to campus on a Saturday to help out with the USA Young Physicists Tournament. It was a busy weekend at CA, not only for our USAYPT group but also for our Science Olympiad and robotics teams in both Middle and Upper School. Everywhere I looked in the CMS, there were kids building and testing, calculating and troubleshooting, rebuilding, and refining, much the same way I had done in the rocket car challenge.  These students could not have been more engaged in what they were doing as they designed to learn.   

The USAYPT group spent the day on the NCSU campus, presenting and defending their results in four college-level physics challenges.  The biggest surprise for me, though, came not during the tournament itself, but at the end of the day, when I arrived in a Charger bus to transport one of the visiting teams from the tournament venue back to the hotel.   As the students boarded the bus for “home,” they were still excitedly talking about the relative merits of the solutions that had been shared and batting around ideas for improvements.  I actually had to interrupt them when we pulled up to the hotel to tell them that we had arrived and that it was time to get off the bus.   Riding in a vehicle covered with question marks, these students just couldn’t stop iterating, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Yet another opportunity to observe the magic of a design challenge came my way last Wednesday, when I had a chance to watch some of our 8th-grade science students tackle a problem related to our current supply chain woes–a topic that the students could certainly relate to after the long delay in receiving their new computers.   Their challenge:  to design a floating storage device (barge) that might help relieve some of the congestion at our ports.   The 8th graders built prototypes of their devices from designs they had sketched, and then tested those prototypes in large tubs of water, making design changes as they discovered through a process of trial and error which barge shapes could hold the most weight and what materials would be most buoyant.  It was wonderful to hear the language of discovery, innovation, and collaboration in action as the students constructed, tested and refined:   “What if we…?” | “Why did it..?”  | “How could we…?” | “Do you think…?” | “I wonder…”  | “Oops!”  | “Let’s try ….”    As with the rocket car challenge, the physics tournament, the Science Olympiad projects, and the robots, here, too, the emphasis was on doing, reflecting, and trying again.

I feel lucky to work at a school where teachers embrace design thinking and enthusiastically engage students in all kinds of design challenges, not only in classes but also through extracurricular and X-Day activities. Design challenges reflect our belief that learning is an iterative and interdependent process, and they have become a key ingredient in the mission recipe that makes Cary Academy such an exciting place to learn and grow.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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Recharging through Summer Learning

May 13, 2021

Swimming pools, barbecues, a day at the beach, professional development…

That last part may not be something we typically associate with summer break, but many of our teachers find the relaxed pace of summer an ideal time to learn and grow!

Cary Academy offers two major grant programs to support the professional development of our faculty during the summer months, the Friday Fellowship and the Innovative Curriculum Grant.  The Friday Fellowship program was created in 2002 in honor of Mr. William C. Friday, President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a founding member of the Cary Academy Board of Directors.  The Innovative Curriculum Grant was launched in 2017 to support projects tied specifically to the school’s strategic goals. 

So what exactly will our tireless teacher-learners be working on this summer through these grant programs? 

Naomi Barlaz and Patrick Lasseter, Upper School History Teachers, received a Friday Fellowship to develop a four-week simulation on the 1956 Suez Crisis for the Conflict and Compromise course in World History.  Based on the Model United Nations Program, the simulation will allow students to explore the conflict from a variety of governmental and organizational perspectives, experience how the U.N. works, and consider the human side of international relations and diplomacy.  

Andrew Chiaraviglio and Pat Martin, Middle School Math Teachers, received an Innovative Curriculum Grant (deferred from Summer 2020) to incorporate programmable robots (the Sphero and the Tello drone) into 8th grade algebra classes.    Andrew and Pat will use their grant funding to explore the features of the robots and prepare to implement a series of engaging activities with them supporting the algebra curriculum.

Robert Coven, Upper School History Teacher, received a Friday Fellowship for a research project on the use of computational thinking in the social sciences.  Robert will develop a skills map and a heuristic framework to be used by students in the Measuring the Past/Rise of the Cities course in World History and in the Advanced Modes of Inquiry class.

Lucy Dawson and Alicia Morris, Middle School Social Studies Teachers, received an Innovative Curriculum Grant to reimagine the Latin American component of the 7th grade World History curriculum.  Their redevelopment work will focus on decentering European voices, investigating the racism and oppression which grew out of colonization, highlighting social justice changemakers in the Americas, and connecting students with local Latinx and Indigenous advocacy groups in North Carolina.

Donna Eason, Upper School English Teacher and Dean of Students, received a Friday Fellowship to complete the online Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program at Cornell University.    Donna hopes that completion of this certificate will strengthen her leadership skills as she steps into the role of Assistant Head of Upper School next year, as well as help her to support the ongoing work of the Center for Community Engagement.

Tyler Gaviria, Middle School Spanish Teacher, and Matt Koerner, Middle School Language Arts Teacher, received an Innovative Curriculum Grant to develop a weeklong experiential learning trip for Middle School students to the Dominican Republic, tentatively set for Spring 2022.  Tyler and Matt will not only plan the trip itself, but also design a series of pre-travel experiences leading into the trip and begin to envision how to extend the experience for participants after the trip through advocacy and Flex Day share-backs.

Betsy MacDonald, Upper School Design and Programming Teacher, received an Innovative Curriculum Grant (deferred from Summer 2020) to develop her proficiency in Unity 3-D to support elective courses in 3-D Animation and 3-D Game Design.    Betsy will use her learning to provide students with a base for creating VR, and then have them self-select a problem within the CA community that could be addressed through a VR project, like 3-D storytelling or creation of a 3-D training video or game.

Paige Meszaros, Upper School History Teacher, received an Innovative Curriculum Grant to develop the curriculum for a new course on African American History.    Paige will work over the summer to create a course syllabus, project modules, and experiential learning opportunities for this elective to be offered in the Spring 2022 semester.

Les Turner, Band Director, received a Friday Fellowship to develop three new units in music production, as well as a field experience in music production culture in Nashville, Tennessee.   This project will give CA students an opportunity to explore another aspect of the musical world that is already of great interest to many, and to do so through hands-on and expeditionary learning.

Congratulations to all of our spirited summer grant recipients as they pursue these exciting professional growth endeavors!

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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2018 Innovative Curriculum and Friday Fellowship Grants

September 6, 2018

The William C. Friday Summer Fellowship Program

The William C. Friday Summer Fellowship Program provides financial assistance for faculty to pursue professional development projects during the summer that will directly strengthen them as teaching professionals in their field(s) of expertise.

Summer 2018

Betsy MacDonald, Upper School Design and Programming Teacher, received a fellowship to hone her skills in 3D modeling and gaming and to use that learning to redesign the curricula for the electives she teaches in this domain.  Betsy plans to write a set of mini-units with step-by-step examples to teach the various techniques she has targeted and to create a buffet of project options for students to choose from.

Jasmine Powell, Dance Teacher, received a fellowship to begin an intensive year-long training program leading to certification as a Pilates teacher.  This training will help Jasmine to more confidently teach Pilates in a variety of contexts, from the upper school Movement for Athletes class to the middle school Yogalates Club to optional classes for employees.

Gray Rushin, Upper School Chemistry Teacher and Outdoors Club Advisor, received funding to support his participation in a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Participation in the hike will help Gray expand the outdoor education opportunities at Cary Academy to include longer, more advanced treks.  Gray also plans to use the experience to design a training course for students in leading wilderness adventure trips.

Katie Taylor, Middle School Language Arts Teacher and Department Leader, received funding to attend the Writing Institute at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  Katie will apply this experience to creation of a set of materials to support writing instruction throughout the content areas in the 6th grade, in accordance with the writing checklist developed collaboratively by the 6th grade team.

Innovative Curriculum Grants

The Innovative Curriculum Grant provides financial assistance for individual faculty members or teams of faculty to work over the summer to create new courses, substantial new course modules or other significant new programs that embody the school’s strategic vision.

Summer 2018

Rachel Atay and Matt Greenwolfe, upper school physics teachers, received a grant to develop a new introductory physics course in Waves, Light and Electricity, which will explore the physics of everyday phenomena in a hands-on, collaborative environment.  Rachel and Matt will employ a “standards-enhanced” grading system to encourage work toward mastery, and the course will include an applied project at the end of each trimester, such as building a practical electrical circuit for a specific purpose or making an optical device like a telescope, microscope or camera.

MaLi Burnett, upper school biology teacher, received a grant to develop a framework for implementing mastery learning in a new introductory biology course (Biology:  Ecological Focus).  MaLi will create a framework for assessment and feedback in the course rooted in mastery of scientific literacy skills, meaning the demonstrated ability to apply scientific knowledge in real-world contexts.

Robert Coven and Conrad Hall, upper school history teachers, received a grant to create a new conceptual modeling unit on the U.S. Constitution for the United States History course.  The new unit will be designed to extend conceptual modeling from the classroom into the community by engaging students in current state and national issues related to the Constitution and by expanding research from electronic sources to person-to-person contacts with community leaders, governmental representatives, and Constitutional scholars.

Fred Haas and Allison McCoppin, middle school science teachers, received a grant to redesign the 7th grade science curriculum to reflect the overarching theme of “Spaceship Earth.”  More and more scientists talk about Earth as a complex system–one that humans must aggressively monitor, manage, and sometimes re-engineer, like a spaceship.  The goal of the curriculum redesign is to provide students with an understanding of the needs of our planet and the STEM practices and concepts required to effectively measure and manage real-world environmental problems.   Students will explore how our planetary life-support system works and what they can do as citizen scientists to promote sustainability.

Craig Lazarski and Kristi Ramey, upper school math teachers, received a grant to develop a new course in Advanced Statistical Theory and Applications.  This course will extend the curriculum of the current Advanced Statistics course by going into more depth on current topics and exploring topics at a Calculus level.  Craig and Kristi plan to work with students in this course to create a statistics consulting group that anyone on campus can use, and they also hope to give students a choice of taking either the AP exam or an Actuary exam, the latter being more of a real-world experience.

Trish Yu, upper school Chinese teacher, received a grant to develop a new advanced-level trimester elective course in Business Communication in Chinese.  The goal of this course is to improve students’ proficiency in the use of Chinese for business purposes, with an emphasis on logistical and cultural hurdles to be overcome, etiquette, and the art of subtle communication.  Students will explore authentic case studies and produce written letters and email messages for real world audiences.

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