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5 of History's Most Remarkable Teachers

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You've likely met at least one teacher who changed your life for the better. And whether that person was an understanding elementary teacher, a high school teacher who pushed you to pursue your passions, or a college professor who spent extra hours helping you shape your thesis, in honor of these beloved figures (and to mark Teacher Appreciation Week, which runs this year from May 2-5), here are five historic educators whose strength, dedication, and creativity deserve extra gold stars.

1. JAIME ESCALANTE

The 1988 movie Stand and Deliver is based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who taught math at Garfield High School, a rough inner-city school in East Los Angeles.

Escalante was a rigorous teacher. His students came in an hour before school started, stayed long after classes were over, and attended mandatory summer school. However, the teacher's intensity paid off: In 1982, all 18 of Escalante’s advanced math students passed the calculus AP test.

Escalante’s students were accused of cheating, a claim they proved false when they re-took (and passed) the test a second time. Their academic achievements spurred a school-wide trend: By 1991, 600 Garfield students were taking AP courses—and not just in math. 

Escalante retired in 1991, and returned to his native Bolivia. He died in 2010 from cancer, at the age of 79.

2. MARIA MONTESSORI

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The Montessori Method is an education approach for children that emphasizes exploration, choice of practical activities, independence, and learning through the senses. It’s named after Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian physician and educator who pioneered the unique form of pedagogy.

Montessori was a trained doctor, but she was also interested in educational theory—particularly methods used to teach children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Montessori eventually became co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers, where she observed various teaching styles to see which ones were most effective.

In 1907, Montessori opened a childcare center called the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in Rome. Noting that the children learned best when they freely interacted with their environment, Montessori designed a special classroom environment and learning materials. Her style was so successful that “Montessori” schools began popping up across Italy. Today, they're common across the globe. 

3. ANNE SULLIVAN

Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) was only 21 years old when she taught the deaf, blind, and mute Helen Keller to communicate with the outside world. Sullivan, whose own vision was impaired, had attended the Perkins School for the Blind. There, she learned the manual alphabet—hand signs for the deaf that can also be communicated via touch. Sullivan used these signs to teach Keller that everything has a name.

In 1877, Sullivan achieved a pivotal breakthrough with her young pupil. She described the moment in a letter to a friend:

...I wrote you that "mug" and "milk" had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the verb "drink." She didn't know the word for "drink," but went through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled "mug" or "milk." This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for "water." When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it and pats my hand. I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the "milk-mug" difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face.

4. RICHARD FEYNMAN

Dr. Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was an American theoretical physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and co-won the 1965 Nobel Prize for work on particle physics. He was also a skilled science instructor who had a knack for delivering intelligent yet approachable physics talks.

As a young man, Bill Gates watched a video of one of Feynman’s talks. He loved it so much that in 2009, he bought the rights to Feynman’s lectures, and collaborated with Microsoft to make them free and accessible online. Recently, Gates paid homage to Feynman’s teaching prowess in a blog post and accompanying video, "The Best Teacher I Never Had."

5. MARY JANE PATTERSON

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mary Jane Patterson (1840-1894), a daughter of fugitive slaves, became the first African-American woman to receive a college degree when she graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. However, she was also a noted educator.

Patterson briefly taught in Chillicothe, Ohio, before relocating to Philadelphia to work at the Institute for Colored Youth, a college preparatory school for African Americans. In 1869, Patterson moved to Washington, D.C. There, she eventually became principal of the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later renamed M Street High School, now called Dunbar High School).

Patterson was the city’s first African-American high school principal, and she is still remembered for her “strong, forceful personality,” and for increasing school enrollment from fewer than 50 students to 172.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Northeastern University Is Now Handing Out Echo Dots to Its Students
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Northeastern University is welcoming new students with an unusual addition to their dorm rooms this fall: an Echo Dot. According to USA Today, the Boston university will give some of its incoming students the option to receive a specialized Echo Dot smart home device that can help answer questions related to their school experience.

Northeastern's Echo Dot program doesn't just provide standard-issue smart home devices. The university has developed a special "Husky Helper" skill (named after the university mascot) that can answer common questions that students might otherwise pose to student services over the phone. The idea is that students will get answers to their questions quickly, and student services won't have to put so many employees to work answering basic queries about issues like dining hall meal card balances.

They can ask it things like whether they have a health insurance waiver on file with the university (a requirement for students who don't have university insurance) or have the device set a timer when they have to leave for their next class. Of course, they can also use it for all the things a non-student might use a Dot for, like playing music or getting weather updates.

Students can decide whether to opt in to the program and how much access to give Amazon. They can add information about their class schedules, meal plan accounts, tuition payments, and more. Students who ask about some sensitive information, like their grades, are instead directed to the proper university department to call, rather than their private data being read out for the whole dorm to hear.

The Northeastern Echo Dot program started out with a 60-student pilot for the 2017 - 2018 academic year, but will expand to more students in the fall.

[h/t USA Today]

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