Teacher and student playing in a mud kitchen
Master’s student and preschool teacher Kathy Spivey plays with a child at the mud kitchen, part of the new sensory garden at UNC Greensboro’s Child Care Education Program.

UNC Greensboro researchers and child care professionals know that inclusive opportunity for intellectual stimulation begins long before elementary school, and that the best opportunities occur through a multiplicity of sensory experiences that encourage make-believe.

This knowledge is the source of a project recently completed by Kathy Spivey, a teacher at UNCG’s Child Care Education Program and a master’s student in UNCG’s Birth through Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development Program, offered jointly through the Department of Specialized Education Services in the School of Education and the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the School of Health and Human Sciences.

Garden with rocks as a border and small plants in the middle

With the understanding that outdoor play reduces stress and increases confidence in young children, Spivey developed a plan to enhance the outdoor area at UNCG’s child care center by building a sensory garden that would give children more opportunities to create and lead their own play.

“Sensory gardens are known to help children with and without disabilities with tactile stimulation, improving sensory integration and processing skills,” Spivey observed in her proposal. She intended for the garden to be accessible to children with differing abilities, and it would be her capstone project for her internship in inclusive early education, which was to reflect leadership and contribution to community.

In planning and constructing the sensory garden, Spivey not only worked with her advisor Dr. Linda Hestenes and her internship professor, Dr. Susan Kingsley, but also Dr. Judy Kinney in the Department of Community and Therapeutic Recreation, director of UNCG’s Child Care Education Program Dr. Sharon Mims, the grounds crew from UNCG Facilities, cross-campus partners Beyond Academics and the very families whose children would eventually play in the garden, and, perhaps most importantly, the children themselves.

Child looking at herb garden

“The most unexpected and important partners I had throughout the process were the children,” said Spivey. “The children were excited to participate in each step. They showed enthusiasm as things were in progress and completed, and they especially encouraged me with their kind words and excitement as we accomplished each milestone together.”

Spivey issued surveys to the families about their children’s outdoor play and what they would like to see on a playground. Spivey also planned work days during which families and children participated, as well as volunteers from Beyond Academics, and undergraduate therapeutic recreation student Norma Rodriguez, who focused her senior honors project on her work on the sensory garden.

An outdoor path made of different materials.

Spivey also created an evaluation tool – a quantitative playground assessment using the Best Practice Indicators and the Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale. With her team of volunteers, Spivey constructed three sensory pathways, sun catchers, a mud kitchen and a unique music wall made of donated pots and pans. Children were invited to select the plants that would grow alongside safe herbs – labeled with pictures to help them more easily begin to identify them.

“Including children in the decisions motivates them to take pride in the space,” explained Spivey.

When the children used their new outdoor play-space, multiple teachers noticed that they were more engaged in the play spaces ‒ using their senses to explore, describing their learning in expressive language and requiring less redirection. The enhancements also revitalized the children’s interest in pre-existing structures, such as the stage near the music wall. Spivey also noticed that children who didn’t typically play together were doing so, with new camaraderie through their enjoyment of the space.

Child and teacher playing on the music wall with spoons banging on pot

“They’re excited to walk along the pathways, and to feel and smell the herbs. Some are interested in collecting rocks to add to the pathways. Many love to “cook” in the mud kitchen and play music with their friends at the music wall,” said Spivey.

a wooden wall with pots and pans hanging on it - a music wall

“Kathy clearly understands that children learn through all their senses, and by creating these new outdoor settings she is opening up the opportunity for higher levels of learning,” said Hestenes, a  researcher who studies outdoor learning environments for young children. “I am thrilled that she has taken the knowledge and skills she has acquired from her master’s degree program at UNCG and transformed it into a project that is directly impacting our youngest Spartans.”

Child holding up a spoon


Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications, and Norma Rodriguez

You only need to walk through the doors of the UNCG School of Education’s SELF Design Studio Makerspace to know innovative things are happening there.
Newly created robots of various shapes and sizes line the walls. Drawings with spinning flowers, historical story boxes and “augmented reality” postcards occupy shelves. Hanging on the back of a chair is a talking sports coat. Here, in the SELF studio, in-service and pre-service teachers learn to use a variety of emerging technologies and tools including 3D printers, microcomputers, robotics and circuitry kits, as well as traditional art supplies.

A School of Education student performing an experiment at the Science Everywhere festival.

Makerspaces are a growing part of school environments, and the UNCG School of Education is ahead of the curve with the SELF Design Studio (SDS). It has been in operation for more than five years and is always moving forward with new ideas and contributions to educational environments.
“We figure out how to use technology in the classroom and use it in practical and meaningful ways,” said SDS Assistant Director Matt Fisher. “Someone has an idea, and we make it once, and then we figure out how to make it better.”

Each semester, several UNCG students serve as “makers in residence.” During their weekly volunteer hours, they learn to use a variety of makerspace tools and mentor other pre-service teachers.

The Spartans who develop their skills at the SELF studio expand “maker” culture throughout local schools as they move into teaching internships. Through the Transforming Teaching Through Technology (T4) grant, UNCG has installed makerspaces in four elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school in Guilford and Forsyth Counties. The newest will be at the Moss Street Partnership School, opening in August 2018.

SDS makers and faculty advisors ensure that creation and exploration continue through an ever-expanding variety of mediums. One day, UNCG pre-service teachers may be helping elementary school students write non-linear stories with technological enhancements and the next day, taking them on adventures via virtual reality technology ‒ to coral reef ecosystems, the International Space Station, inside a human heart or to the Great Wall of China.

The SELF Design Studio is also an integral part of UNCG’s annual Science Everywhere festival. The 2018 festival drew more than 4,000 kids to campus to participate in hands-on learning projects in many different locations.

Kiser Middle School students and SELF Design Studio collaborators watch as a high-altitude weather balloon and spacecraft ascend.

But that’s not all; SDS is the host of the Writing and Robotics summer camp and in May, the studio staff and makers-in-residence helped Kiser Middle School’s meteorology club launch a high-altitude weather balloon into the stratosphere for the second year. The SELF team plans to work with the meteorology club for another launch in 2019.

For more information about SELF Design Studio workshops, which include coding, 3D printing, video game design, “augmented reality” and more, visit the website.

“With the students and all their ideas,” Fisher says, “no day here is every the same.”

Picture of Dr. Perko

When are Dr. Mike Perko’s students ready to engage in their field as professionals?

The professor in UNCG’s Department of Public Health Education says it’s the first time they enter his classroom and make an observation about health.
He operates with “the truly simple notion that my students and I are in this together, both in and out of the classroom.”
Perko received the 2018 UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, an honor bestowed on only 17 recipients representing all of North Carolina’s public universities.

“I deeply appreciate the BOG selection committee embracing my own story of fighting for the underdog,” said Perko. “And my personal creed of ‘once a student of Perko’s, always a student of Perko’s.’”

Perko works with a set of core values that he passes down to his students – he calls it “The Seven Cs.” Courage, community, conceptualization, creativity, collaboration, collegiality, compassion. And the students respond to his approach. They comment on his generosity, his approachability and how his ability to tell a good story piques their interest and supports their engagement in a topic.
“To know Dr. Perko (‘Dr. Mike’) is to know that he is a purposeful teacher,” observed Dr. Sharon Morrison. “He believes in empowering students for learning outside the classroom.”

“He encouraged us to think BIG,” recalled one former student. “So, I thought BIG. Really BIG. I could do anything I set my mind to, because that is how Mike Perko inspires his students to succeed – to reach his or her highest potential.”

Perko has served as graduate program director for both the master’s and doctoral programs in public health and teaches in both undergraduate and graduate program. He has been the advisor for dissertations on such diverse topics as opioid overdose prevention, the physical activity of nurses and how organization structure affects the physical health of long-haul truck drivers.

His own research activity spans from worksite wellness and health initiatives to athletes’ use of dietary supplements and performance enhancing drugs to diabetes prevention to smoking cessation studies and programs. He is the author of “The Secrets of America’s Healthiest Companies” and “Can You Win Without Supplements?” as well as a children’s book, “Cornered!” ‒ in which a turtle named Sheldon addresses a bullying problem.

“Because health is such a broad field, and impacts our lives so much, it’s almost impossible to not get interested in a variety of things,” said Perko. “I like to always remember that scholarship in academia should focus on new discoveries, creation of new and or unique knowledge, have application in teaching and involve stakeholders, including students.”

instructor working with a student outside

Skilled graduate and undergraduate mentors reinforce the productive and welcoming atmosphere that defines UNC Greensboro. An open connection between faculty and students also fuels student accomplishments in research, and propels the academic programs to new heights. Quality mentorship is present throughout the campus in all schools and fields of study. Two mentors were recognized this year by the provost and chancellor for their dedication to UNCG graduate and undergraduate research.

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The Office of the Provost is soliciting proposals for a course design or redesign using innovative teaching strategies tied to adaptive learning. Courses may be online, hybrid, or face-to-face in mode of delivery.

Courses (undergraduate or graduate) should employ innovative practices and strategies that emphasize student mastery of content. This project should amplify the impact of personalized learning approaches through the use of adaptive learning systems. These systems use data-driven approaches to student learning by adjusting students’ learning paths through content based on their understanding and mastery of content. The course design or redesign should connect data-driven teaching approaches derived from the diagnostic capabilities of the adaptive learning system to course delivery and content. Particular attention should be given to the scaffolding of course content utilizing the adaptive learning system to reinforce foundations of course topics. This approach has the potential to transform student learning, our campus, and the community. For more on adaptive learning, read the included Educause Learning Initiative article.

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With support from the Office from Provost, the University Teaching and Learning Commons (UTLC) welcomes Dr. Karen Vignare to UNCG on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Dr. Vignare will give an open talk on the foundations of adaptive learning, 1:30 – 3:00 PM, in SOEB, room 204. To sign up for the event, please click here. For additional information about this event, please contact Dr. Laura Pipe (lmpipe@uncg.edu), Associate Director in the UTLC.

As Executive Director for the Personalized Learning Consortium at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Dr. Vignare manages a network of universities committed to student success through personalization. She also oversees APLU’s Adaptive Courseware Grant, program providing leadership and support to eight pioneering universities that are scaling adaptive courseware in introductory-level courses.

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