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Teachers' Seminar on Africa

Teachers' Seminar on Africa

Each year UCLA International Studies and Overseas Programs (ISOP) and the James S. Coleman African Studies Center (JSCASC) offer a Summer Teachers’ Institute as an accredited professional development seminar for K-12 teachers in Southern California.

This year’s seminar was held from July 28th – August 9th, 2001 and designed around the Scholars in the Schools program, a partnership of ISOP, The University of Southern California’s Center for Active Learning in International Studies (CALIS), and the Los Angeles Center for International Studies (LACIS) at Loyola Marymount University. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation provided additional funding.

Seventeen 6th and 7th grade teachers, recruited by CALIS, came from four targeted schools: Portola Middle School, Berendo Middle School, Holmes Middle School, and Mt. Vernon Middle School in Los Angeles County. These were chosen on the basis of their Academic Performance Index scores as well as their ranking among schools with similar economic, class, ethnic composition and related factors. Possible scores on the API are 200-800 and from these scores schools receive a rating from 1-10. All schools chosen for this summer’s JSCASC Institute were considered ‘low performing’ on the API.

Each school was represented by at least two teachers from different disciplines, to foster interdisciplinary teaching and team building. The main aim of the program was to create teams across disciplines within schools to enable instruction of Africa-related themes in the humanities, social sciences, language arts, science, and math. Teachers were expected to take a theme or an idea from lectures during the two-week sessions and develop a curriculum unit on Africa that they would later implement in their classrooms. In doing so, teachers would coordinate lessons across disciplines to ensure continuity of selected themes during a give period. For instance, if a History partner covers a unit on West African empires, then the English partner could assign a novel or short story from that period or offer several folktales from that same region.

Seminar workshops and presentations ranged from historical surveys to explorations of gender roles and examination of African literature. Allen Roberts, Director of JSCASC, welcomed teachers and opened the Institute with a discussion of impressions and media images of Africa. The session provided teachers with the opportunity to discuss widespread attitudes toward Africa in the US and ways teachers could dispel these stereotypes. Many of the participants discussed the difficulty associated with teaching about Africa in the schools because of the lack of in-depth coverage of Africa in textbooks and the unavailability of multi media teaching aids.

Professor Roberts’ presentation was followed by a viewing of "The Nature of a Continent", part of "The Africans" video series by Ali Mazuri. David Iyam, Core Instructor, then held a session on "Perceptions of Africa" to discuss the video and the teachers’ reaction to Mazuri’s presentation of Africa. Other presenters included, Merrick Posnansky (UCLA/History) on "Pre-Colonial Africa", Gibril Cole (UCLA/History) on "Colonialism and Decolonization", Don Cosentino (UCLA/WAC) on "African Belief Systems", Nwando Achebe (UCLA/History) on "African Women and Gender Relations", Helen Mugambi on "Approaches to African Names and Naming: A Global Perspective", Allen Roberts (UCLA/WAC, JSCASC) on "Social Change in Contemporary Africa: An Islamic Case from Urban Senegal", Joyce Olewe (UCLA/JSCASC) on "African Art", Ruby Bell-Gam (UCLA/GSEIS) on "African Literature", and Kobla Ladzepko (UCLA/Ethnomusicology) on "African Dance and Music". An additional presentation was offered by teacher participants Helene Stevenson (Portola) and Bucky Schmidt (Portola) entitled "From Workshop to the Classroom." A tour of the Charles Young Research Library was led by Miki Goral of the Africana reference desk, while Betsy Quick, Education Director at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History presented "Introduction to Teaching Modules and Other Resources on African Arts."

The Institute also featured sessions on methodology and pedagogy with presentations by Marianne Loeser of the California International Studies Project on "Unwrapping the Standards: Africa and Performance Assessment Design;" Janice Pilgreen of the University of La Verne on "Content Literacy: Africa in the Textbooks;" and Jane Hancock on "Writing Design: Learning through Writing." In addition to class sessions, teachers enjoyed a screening of "Lumumba" and were given an opportunity to discuss the movie with Allen Roberts, whose doctoral research was conducted in The Congo.

All partners in this year’s seminar will provide teachers with follow-up support. The JSCASC will host lectures and invite teachers back during the academic year to facilitate retention of information. Teachers will be able to invite guest lecturers to their classroom as a part of the implementation phase of their unit and will receive assistance in acquisition of materials to support their instruction in the classroom.

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