BIPOC Agile Stories: Dr. Charles Collingwood Shares Social Justice in Education

Speaker 1:                    (Singing.)

Dr. Dave:                      Hello. And welcome to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast. I am Dr. Dave Cornelius, your host. Today, my discussion partner is Dr. Charles Collingwood, the Math Department Chair at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona. He is a pioneering STEM educator who influenced many high school students to go on to college. We have had many great conversations over the years about transforming education to include more real world practices and applications. Well, let’s begin. Dr. Charles Collingwood, thank you for joining me today. How are you doing?

Dr. Charles Col…:          I’m doing great, man. Thank you.

Dr. Dave:                      That’s just great, man. So I’m just going to jump right in and start peppering you with questions right off the bat.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Lay it on me, lay it on me.

Dr. Dave:                      Lay it on you. There you go. So look, as a teacher, what are some of the guiding principles that you want to share with your students that would really affect their ability to learn?

Dr. Charles Col…:          I think the first thing that students have to understand that learning itself is a life-long commitment, right? As human beings, to live in society, we have to learn how to function. So the process of learning, we talk about it a lot in schools, but basically, the process of learning happens throughout our life and we’ve got to apply that to this special context of schooling and I think that’s important for students to understand because I like to have them understand that you have learned many things in your lifespan. They could talk about some of them play music, some of them play sports, they play all these things and they have to learn them at some point. So this process of learning, we talk about it in the context of schooling, but in fact, it happens throughout your whole life. I think once they understand that, then it’s much easier for me to teach them these concepts that they are not really familiar with.

Dr. Dave:                      Okay. So it’s learning throughout in our lives and in many different contexts. So I want to talk about this mentoring program that you started at Sahuaro High School in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. What were some of the goals for the mentoring program that you had?

Dr. Charles Col…:          One of the issues that we have at the school that I’m working at is that you have quite a few students that are not really engaged in the curriculum that is being offered in many areas, right? So as I was having meetings over the summer and during the COVID spring, we started to talk about, man, how can we engage students more? What kind of ways can we do to engage students. And then I thought about it would be awesome if I could have a class where we are not really talking about any specific content, but the idea of learning, right, teaching yourself to learn, what it means to learn.

                                    So they gave me the green light to cover the class. And I said, “Okay. I think I could do that.” So I came up with this thing called mentoring class, right? A mentoring class where I had about 24 or 25 students in the class and about maybe 10 of them are what I call mentors, maybe usually juniors and seniors and then the rest of them were freshmen and sophomore students who I thought needed help.

                                    So the idea was to introduce students probably for the first time into a learning environment without the pressure of a grade so to speak, right? So we are here to learn. There is no pressure. What I did is I got many community members to come in and speak with the students and stuff like that. And students were able to interact more in a job scene, right, take more ownership of their learning. That was the plan.

                                    And it’s working well so far. Of course they are first year, second year worked better and so forth, but the program was designed in such a way to give students an opportunity not to focus so much on grades, but let’s focus on what learning is and how learning can occur and how can you really tap into that energy that they come to school with because they come to school with energy and somehow, the system sucks that energy out of them. You know what I’m saying? Not intentionally, but they overdo stuff. So my hope was that students would see a different way, a different path and I could access that and teach them some new concepts and stuff like that.

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing. So I want to still say thank you for volunteering for the 5 Saturdays STEAM program in 2019 as a learning facilitator. How did that experience guide you to select one of the 5 Saturday STEAM program courses for the mentoring program?

Dr. Charles Col…:          So that was 2018, 2019?

Dr. Dave:                      2019, yeah.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yeah, 2019. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about a mentorship program, right? But my experience in the 5 Saturdays program probably set my mind in that direction, right? And I saw some things that they did, that we did in that program, where I saw kids really gravitating towards and stuff. [inaudible 00:06:05] there are some things that I could use from that program that could really make the mentorship program more functional. Of all the things that I chose was something called JREC, right? Job readiness because a lot of students want to leave high school. Yeah, they’re going to go to college and whatever, but their main thing is getting a job, right? And I think the JREC program can allow them to go through the steps of what you need to do to get a job, right? How you write a resume.

                                    They are the simple things that they had no idea about, right? How can you develop a resume? How can you even shake hands, right? The simple things. How can you look someone in the eyes? What is your posture? What’s your language? And so those kind of things are always very, very important, so I definitely took that from the 5 Saturdays program because I saw it in action during that time, right? Where we taught them different types of handshakes and stuff like that, stuff that students don’t really think about and no one will really teach them. So it was really great.

                                    Of course for me, what I also did is use a thing called a Flipgrid, which they could take videos of themselves doing things. I could see it and I could evaluate and tell them okay, this went well, do this or don’t do that. So that was really nice. That enhanced how that JREC was applied to this class. And I think, also, that students are … Because during COVID, I’m not meeting with them, right? I’m on Zoom, so I want to know how are you really shaking hands, right? You tell me I shook some hands. No. No. I would like to see that and I could use Flipgrid so I could see how they shook hands or had eye contact and stuff like that. So students were very … It still worked for them, of course, and they gave me a little pushback, but it went well. It really went well and I really appreciated the opportunity to bring that to students.

Dr. Dave:                      That was excellent. Because I think I attended one of your sessions and one of your students was excited about learning a career development skill to build a resume and interview for jobs. Because they’re kind of like, “Why can’t we learn more of this kind of stuff,” right? Versus whatever else you teach in your mathematics or English class. But what was some of the feedback from other students that surprised you? Were there other students that provided feedback, as well?

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yeah. A lot of students, I would say 90% of the students were very excited about being able to create their own resume, right? Because the idea of a resume to them was just a word, right, that they heard, this thing called a resume, but they didn’t really understand what it meant. What was great with the resume building is that like I told them, it’s a work in progress, right? It’s not done. As you learn more, you can add to your resume and change the resume as you continue to work.

                                    So they were really excited about … Many students, many students told me this is the first time I’m taking a class that really counts for something. And I understand that. I understand what they mean and stuff like that. So we have quite a few students, a lot of students, especially when you have speakers from different areas coming to share their knowledge with students, right? Because I had people who come from healthcare, people who come from some business, from industry and so forth. So it was really a good experience for kids to see not just what I say as a teacher, but what other people in the field say. The thing that’s very, very important and matter of fact, that is what’s lacking, I think, in K-12 right now, right?

                                    We talk to students all the time and we talk about from our perspective as educators. But I think it’s important for them to hear from other sources, right, who have experienced what they are going through right now and have come out on the other side. I could tell them, could reflect back and say hey, this is what I did, this is what I should have done. These are the things that really worked well. These are the things that were useless to me, but these things were very important. Because they hear it from me all the time, but I am just a teacher for them.

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah. You’re familiar. They see you every day.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Dave:                      So what do you see as the next evolution for STEM education for high school students?

Dr. Charles Col…:          I’ll tell you, the biggest … Well in my view, one of the biggest issues we’re having right now is that we don’t have enough leaders, school leaders who have STEM background, right? What I mean by that is this. National survey over 21,000 students, 934 high schools, only 12% of the leaders of those schools came from math and science, right? Came from math and 12% from science. Most of the leaders come from history and English and stuff like that. And I think that has an impact on how STEM is introduced to students, right? I really believe that. My experience in my 25th year of teaching, I could recall at times in my 25 years of teaching, I had one administrator who had a math and science background.

Dr. Dave:                      Wow.

Dr. Charles Col…:          I remember one. Yes.

Dr. Dave:                      One.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yes. One. And I had a lot of administrators in 25 years. I remember distinctively this one administrator came to evaluate me and he had math and science background. And he was interacting with the science and the math, right? He was interacting. He was asking questions because he was very familiar with the content, you know? And that made a big difference because he was talking to students because he knew what was happening, right? I’m not saying that every administrator needs to be like that, but I think we are not represented proportionally in leadership, right?

                                    If we take that leadership further on to superintendents, it’s even worse, right, because there are very few superintendents who have math and science backgrounds. So as much as they push oh, math and science is great, I always believe in the back of their mind, I did well without it.

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah.

Dr. Charles Col…:          So is it really that important? That’s just one of the biggest things that I think could have a tremendous impact on students learning and understanding and engaging in mathematics and science and STEM in general. And I think that’s a good place to start.

                                    As far as teachers are concerned, we need to really teach kids how to learn, right, as opposed to this idea of banking education, where they come to me and I just teach them all this stuff and they regurgitate that back to me, right? I think we need to spend more time teaching them how to learn, teaching them how to go out and find information, right? Give them some information, but then their responsibility is to go and find out, right? Go and search. Give them deeper questions. Give them more applications of the mathematic concepts and stuff like that. I’ve been doing that for many years, but I think that is really key into having them engage with the mathematics and the science and so forth.

Dr. Dave:                      You know, that makes a lot of sense, right? We learn by doing, right, versus just someone telling us what to do.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Right.

Dr. Dave:                      Recently, you completed the certified Agile Educator certification. What did you learn and how do you plan to use that new knowledge for the next mentoring class?

Dr. Charles Col…:          I think what was interesting to me is that … I know some stuff, of course. But it was nice to see what I think I know in a different perspective. And Agile to me broadened my perspective on learning. I think I told you, too, is that when I saw just one part of it where they talk about this company who was trying to develop better sunglasses, right?

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah.

Dr. Charles Col…:          And [inaudible 00:15:28] go in the store at that time and actually collect the data right there and make adjustments and changes to what they were doing right on the spot. And I thought … That just blew me away, that way of thinking, right? Because for me, Agile mindset is a way in which you think about stuff, which I think is really important. So for me, I learned a lot and am going to try to apply that stuff as we go in the next semester. As a matter of fact, next semester, I want to use another thing we learned in Five Saturdays is break up my students in groups and teach them to be entrepreneurs, right?

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah.

Dr. Charles Col…:          And have them develop a plan and go through the whole process and stuff. And at the end of the semester, they’ll present their work. So that’s what I plan to do, what will be the big ending project for this semester, right? Last semester, the ending project we did was … What we did was have students create a budget for their lives after high school and go through the whole process of knowing how money works and then setting up themselves so they understand what they need to do to continue to survive and live and thrive, right? So that’s what we did last semester.

                                    This semester will be entrepreneurship where I teach them, okay, these are the things you need to do. You go ahead. You form a company. Let’s go through this process like we did in 5 Saturdays and come up with an end-product at the end of the semester. So that’s the plan for this semester.

Dr. Dave:                      That’s wonderful. So let’s just talk a little bit more about how your knowledge of Agile practice has changed your approach as a leader and educator and how will it as you go forward?

Dr. Charles Col…:          I think it’s more given me more focus, more focus on the process and follow that process to the end so to speak, right? Because man, teaching can be frustrating at times. It’s a challenge and if I had some guidance on things that work and also, then I could bring in people to come and talk about these things, right? What I don’t know, I could bring [inaudible 00:18:00] and talk about these things. But the big plan is to create a little environment that kids are buying into their own learning and I think Agile seems to offer that opportunity as I see it, right? To allow kids to really take charge of their learning and really understand that learning is what makes us human. We are not rocks. We have the capacity to learn. Let’s continue to do that and make it work for you. So that’s how I see Agile working, that process, right? [inaudible 00:18:38] this semester coming up.

Dr. Dave:                      That’s wonderful. I’m glad to hear about that. I am such a big lover of Agile. Well you know that. You know that. So what’s next on the journey for you?

Dr. Charles Col…:          Man. So I’m also very much into teaching kids how to analyze data. That’s a big part of what I do because I think moving forward, you have a lot of data that needs to be analyzed and we don’t have enough people to actually do that. So again, one of the things I do this semester is teaching students how to analyze data using Excel, using [inaudible 00:19:25] and using different types of computing programs, both in my mentorship class and also, in my other class. I also teach AP calculus and college algebra.

                                    So I’m lucky in the sense that college algebra doesn’t have a state assessment to take, so I have more latitude to do different things. So that’s great. But definitely teaching students how to analyze data, I think is a big thing that I want to work on coming up as I continue this journey and especially to really getting minority students to perform better in mathematics and science, right, in the STEM field because that’s where we have the biggest drop-off, right? So that’s one thing that’s at the forefront of my mind, as far as teaching math and science and the whole STEM curriculum and getting under-represented students to be involved in this process because a lot of times, the way everything’s designed, it’s almost for [inaudible 00:20:36], right?

                                    This special group of kids who could do the higher level math and stuff like that. I think it should be all kids. You just need to get them engaged and let them know that we’ve got you, man. You just perform and we’re here to help you and support you. I think that’s lacking.

Dr. Dave:                      And that’s true because you and I are both STEM people. I’m in the technology space and you’re in the mathematics. So this is important stuff. So hey man, I just want to say thank you for what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing. I will continue to harass you about different things, as you know I will.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yes, yes you will. Yes you will. Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But I appreciate what you offer, right? I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know and I’m always looking for ways in which to engage my students. That’s a key thing, right? Because I have many students who have done really, really, really, really well and they always come back and tell me, “Hey man, when you did this, that was really great,” or “When you did this, when we built those satellite dishes was really great.” And those are the things that are really important.

                                    I’ve done this for quite a while where I even took kids to lectures and had them present with me on work that we had done in school and they never forget those things. So I am really excited about the journey I’m on, even though it’s almost come to the end because next year, my 30th year of teaching.

Dr. Dave:                      As long as you still have … The brain is functioning, you’re still upright, there is no end. It’s just you may go off into a different journey.

Dr. Charles Col…:          Yes. Yes. I agree. I agree with you.

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah. I can’t see you just sitting home watching TV all day.

Dr. Charles Col…:          No. Exactly no. Definitely not. No. No. No. No. There’s a lot of work to do, let’s put it that way.

Dr. Dave:                      Yes.

Dr. Charles Col…:          A lot of work to do, but I realize that and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of me around, African American in a highly valued subject, right?

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah. For sure.

Dr. Charles Col…:          You have an opportunity to influence people, so I think I could stick with it for a while because of that.

Dr. Dave:                      Yeah. Well you’re adding value, right? And people are coming back and acknowledging you for the value that you’re providing. So I would definitely say keep on keeping on, right?

Dr. Charles Col…:          All right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

Dr. Dave:                      So let me close and just say hey, thank you for listening to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast. I hope this learning experience would also prompt you to seek more about what is going on with the primary and secondary education system in your community. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we approach learning and perhaps this is an opportunity for disruptive innovation in education.

So the music that you will hear in this podcast is by my niece, Kayanna Brow-Hendrikson,

Copyright 2020-2021, KnolShare and Dr. Dave Cornelius.

So until next time, be well, stay safe and connect soon. Thank you so much. See you soon B.

Dr. Charles Col…:          All right. Take it easy boss.