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2022 Spring Seminar Program

The Teachers Institute of Philadelphia (TIP) invites teachers from around the School District of Philadelphia to participate in its 15-week seminar program in 2022. Led by professors in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and STEM fields, the seminars enable participants (called fellows) to write original curriculum units based on the material they have learned. Participation in TIP helps teachers build their content knowledge and improve results in the classroom. Fellows develop creative ways to teach material required by District, state and national curriculum standards. Seminars meet in a mostly remote format, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5-7pm, from January to May with some meetings either on the Penn or Temple campuses. Upon successful completion of the program, fellows earn 30 Act 48 credits and a $1,500 stipend.

Taking up the Mantle: African American Women Writers after Morrison

Herman Beavers, English and Africana Studies, Penn; meets Wednesdays

In this seminar, we will endeavor, first, to understand the nature and scope of Toni Morrison’s literary legacy, not only as novelist, but also as a literary critic, and a social commentator. We will read several of Morrison’s essays and lectures, including the one she delivered when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But from there, we will move to consider African American women’s writing in the 21st Century. We will work across literary genres: poetry, drama, fiction, and cinema in order to ruminate on how or if these writers are responding to Morrison’s influence. What themes have emerged for these writers that are unique to our moment? In this time of racial protests, how are they responding to our present racial crisis?  Some of the writers we’ll be reading include Danielle Evans, Amina Gautier, Desiree Cooper, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Natasha Trethewey, Ayana Mathis, Tracy K. Smith, Elizabeth Alexander, Monica Hand, and Morgan Parker.

Soft Robots

Cynthia Sung, Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics, Penn; meets Thursdays

Soft robots are robots made of stretchy and compliant materials such as rubber, cloth, paper, and more. Compared to hard robots made of metal and requiring large motors, these robots can interact more safely with humans, access tight spaces, and survive extreme environments. This seminar will discuss the history and technology behind soft robots, demonstrating the possibility of making them out of commonplace, household materials, and showing the state-of-the-art engineering advancements in the field. The seminar will explore how soft robots can change the future of manufacturing, space exploration, and medicine.  Along the way, it will uncover the underlying principles in physics (e.g., springs, energy), chemistry (e.g., reactions, thermodynamics), and engineering design that make them possible. Though the seminar will target grades 9-12, some topics will be accessible for lower grade levels as well.

Black Visual Culture

Dagmawi Woubshet, English & Africana Studies, Penn; meets Thursdays

In this course will consider a range of texts—on photography, film, painting, poetry, and theory—to explore both the creative works of Black artists and the critical discourses around Black visual representation. From the casta paintings of colonial Mexico to contemporary media representations, in the white western canon, black people have been rendered mainly through “the typology of taint, / of stain: blemish: sullying spot:” to borrow the poet Natasha Trethewey’s incisive characterization. It is against this context that Black image makers have engendered a creative and critical practice and body of work, which reveals the effect of what Toni Morrison called “the white gaze,” and moreover illuminates black interior life on its own terms.  Among the themes we will explore in-depth include: the representation of blackness in different visual media; the ways in which race intersects with other markers of identity like gender, sexuality, class, and nationality; the relationship between Black visual and literary arts; and the ethics of Black self-representation.

Asian Americans in U.S. Schools

Kimberly Goyette, Sociology, Temple; meets Wednesdays

Beginning with the larger history of Asian American immigration to the U.S., this seminar will explore the issues that Asian American students may grapple with in their homes and in their schools.  We will look at the incredible growth of the Asian American population in the last ten years and its diversity in terms of countries of origin, socioeconomic background, immigrations circumstances, and religion and culture.  The class will consider Asian American academic experiences and the explanations proposed for successes and challenges in the U.S. education system.  We explore the origins of the “model minority” stereotype and focus on its ramifications for students currently, particularly for Asian American students’ mental health.  We will also consider supplementary tutoring, competitions and “shadow” education, and debates about whether affirmative action benefits or harms Asian American students in the college admission process.

Educating for American Democracy

Rogers M. Smith, Political Science, Penn, meets Thursdays

Many fear today that American democracy is in serious jeopardy due to severe political polarization, a lack of understanding of different perspectives and experiences, and a lack of civic knowledge and skills for contributing to effective democratic self-governance. This seminar will draw on the seven themes of inquiry identified by the NEH-funded project Educating for American Democracy to address this lack of knowledge and will to find common ground. The themes are: civic participation; our changing American landscapes; the idea of “We, the People”; the Constitution and new form of government of the United States; processes of institutional and social transformation; the place of the American people in the world; and contemporary debates and possibilities we Americans face today. Units created in this course will become resources for all other teachers seeking to strengthen American civic education.