Tag: TOSS workshops

More on $161,000 grant for new approaches to first-year achievement

We included a link to the news release in Friday’s LOG Extra, but for the benefit of non-subscribers and those who might have missed it, here goes:

UW-Green Bay has received a grant award of $161,504 for the “Phoenix GPS Program” from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation. Denise Bartell, associate professor of Human Development, wrote the proposal in her capacity as director of UW-Green Bay’s Students in Transition Center, and in collaboration with Michael Stearney, dean of enrollment services. Phoenix GPS builds on promising retention strategies used in FOCUS, first-year seminars, the TOSS program and related initiatives. The new program creates a year-long support community for a group of 125 first-year students, placing them into small groups of 25, each with a faculty mentor, a peer mentor, and an academic adviser. Over the course of the year, students will:
• Complete a first-year seminar course together
• Participate in TOSS study session
• Participate in Student Success Workshops
• Engage in co-curricular and social activities
• Consult regularly with faculty mentors and academic advisers
• Complete a service learning project together.
Attention to retention is especially important at UW-Green Bay, Bartell says, where nearly two-thirds of students are from one or more of the three historically under-represented constituencies (low-income households, students of color and/or first-generation college students). In a given year, roughly 60 percent of UW-Green Bay students are first generation, 40 percent are eligible for federal Pell Grants and 10 percent are people of color. For the full story on the new Phoenix GPS program.

About that ‘GPS’ name…
The “GPS” in Phoenix GPS is both a play on the ‘ph” in Phoenix and fitting metaphor. The initials stand for Gateways to Phirst-Year Success and, says Prof. Denise Bartell, who guided development of the proposal, “The choice of a GPS as a metaphor was quite intentional. The Phoenix GPS Program is designed to help students navigate their first year of college, anticipate the roadblocks, and chart a course to first-year success… Phoenix GPS offers these students a comprehensive array of services intentionally designed to increase student success in the first year by addressing the specific barriers to success our research indicates students at UW-Green Bay face.”

Video viewing: ‘Danceworks’ opens Friday; Bauer targets achievement gap

In case you missed ‘em in yesterday’s (or today’s) Log Extra, we’ve got two new videos to share. The first offers a sneak peek at Danceworks, the dynamic mainstage celebration of faculty and student choreography that opens Friday, April 5, at University Theatre in Theatre Hall. The second provides an inside look at Prof. Angela Bauer’s Targeted Opportunities for Success in the Sciences (TOSS) workshops, which are eliminating the academic achievement gap in introductory science courses. Earlier this year, TOSS and other initiatives earned Bauer the 2013 UW System Board of Regents Diversity Award in the individual category. So check out the videos and get your tickets — Danceworks runs two nights only, April 5-6.

Danceworks video / TOSS video

Success for all students: TOSS program closing science achievement gap

Prof. Angela BauerThere are numerous reasons why UW-Green Bay Prof. Angela Bauer won the 2013 UW System Board of Regents Diversity award in the individual category.

A longtime advocate of raising the bar for all learners, Bauer, Human Biology, consistently has worked to close the academic achievement gap, bring minority scientists to campus and make the science curriculum more diverse.

But perhaps the effort that has received the most attention is TOSS — Targeted Opportunities for Student Success in Science, a program that has been effective in closing the achievement gap (Bauer prefers the term “opportunity gap”) in Introduction to Human Biology courses. Using teaching assistants to connect students with the material and foster a sense of community, TOSS workshops are making a difference for students — minority and majority alike.

“The idea for the TOSS workshops came about when (UW-Green Bay multicultural adviser) Shawn Robinson and I had been having some discussions about the achievement gap that existed between white students and students of color within our introductory science courses,” Bauer said. “When we started studying some of the data about the achievement gap, what we found was that the gap wasn’t necessarily related to students’ lack of academic preparation coming into our classroom — that even when we controlled for their ACT scores, the gap still existed.”

And while the term “achievement gap” is a familiar part of the education lexicon at all levels, Bauer prefers to frame the issue differently.

“Really the issue that is at hand is the classroom environment that we are creating,” she said. “Are we fostering the success of all students, or are we creating an opportunity gap? And I really tend to view this phenomenon as an opportunity gap.”

TOSS workshops video

So in 2009, Bauer launched the TOSS program, which encourages multicultural students — and others — to participate in weekly workshops with teaching assistants who are trained in both the course material and in culturally responsive approaches to teaching.

“We offer a couple of different TOSS workshop sections per week for students,” Bauer said. “And the workshops are smaller in size than what the traditional lecture setting is, so students meet in groups of maybe 20 to 24. And it allows for more interactions with their peers and also with their teaching assistants. And we really, again, place an emphasis on creating community within that context.”

Robert Sewell is a senior Human Biology major currently in his second semester as a TOSS teaching assistant. He enjoys the interaction of TOSS and says the workshops have helped him hone leadership skills as he leads review sessions and works with fellow students.

TOSS workshops video

“A lot of students find science to be in some way scary and I don’t know why,” Sewell said. “And I’m gradually trying to get students to not think that way, because science is funbut you just have to approach it differently.”

The TOSS workshops are making an impact, Bauer said.

“We now have four years’ worth of data,” she said. “And in every single semester in which TOSS workshops are offered, the achievement gap has been eliminated. So the academic performance between white students and students of color is essentially the same.”

Freshman Isaac Wells has been a frequent TOSS workshop attendee. As a Computer Science major, Human Biology isn’t his strongest subject — but the workshops are making a difference.

“Even if you’re good at this, it’s just always — if you’re a Human Biology major, it’s still good to go and review,” Wells said. “And if you’re maybe like me, a Computer Science major — you’re a Sociology major or something not at all related to science, then it’ll definitely help you. I’d recommend — anyone who needs a little extra help, I’d definitely recommend going.”

For more information on Bauer and other UW-Green Bay award winners, visit the UW-Green Bay Institutional Honors page.


Human Biology prof pilots new strategy vs. ‘achievement gap’

Prof. Angela Bauer and studentBiology Prof. Angela Bauer was troubled by a pattern she had seen in her Introduction to Human Biology classes.

Even among students with similar academic preparedness, Caucasian students outperformed multicultural students by a significant margin. Bauer set out to close the “achievement gap.”

“Given that the students had similar high school GPA and ACT scores, we assumed it was something in the classroom dynamic or facilitation that could be improved to close that gap,” Bauer said.

She worked with adviser Shawn Robinson of the American Intercultural Center to encourage multicultural students to take part in a weekly workshop called Targeted Opportunities for Success in the Sciences (TOSS). TOSS sessions are led by students who are trained in both the course material and culturally responsive approaches to teaching. Juny Lee, a graduate student at the time, stepped forward to become the program’s first student leader and teaching assistant.

The outcome over two years has been remarkable.

Prof. Angela Bauer and students

“The gap is gone,” reported Bauer (above with tutors Benn Mwai, left, and Jesse Cahill). “Although it is difficult to evaluate We believe that it has less to do with content and more to do with engaging students in ways we can’t in large lecture halls. We believe it has to do with the connections to their peers and shared experiences and perhaps a fading of a perceived social barrier between themselves and their teachers.”

Bauer said that the location of the study groups — conducted on the fourth floor of the Laboratory Sciences building where science faculty members have open hours and appear more accessible — has also seemed to foster a comfort level for students. More of the TOSS students are choosing these areas for study and hanging out. And Bauer has noticed an additional outcome — more TOSS students are initiating smaller study groups on their own.

Benn Mwai, a senior human biology major, said serving as a tutor and mentor helps him as well.

“What really motivates me is the principle behind TOSS, trying to encourage minorities to look at science as an interesting discipline, not necessarily a hard discipline that is doable by only a few selected individuals,” he says. “Tutoring is also my other way of learning from other people. When most students ask challenging questions, it helps me understand concepts by consulting with professors, studying more about the topic or discussing with the students; the combination of all these challenges motivates me to want to learn more.”

Much of the credit can go to Robinson, who Bauer says is “relentless” about convincing students of the worthiness of TOSS, and Lee, who was earning his master’s degree in UWGB’s Environmental Science and Policy program when he volunteered his time to be the program’s first teaching assistant.

“Among other dynamics for success, Juny discovered that an extensive vocabulary review seemed especially helpful, as some of the TOSS participants may not have learned English as a first language, making it difficult to grasp both casual language differences and also the scientific terminology used by college faculty,” Bauer said.

Bauer acknowledges that similar gaps and predicted outcomes of success are not unique to courses in the sciences. But implementing a TOSS program on a broader scale would take considerable time (perhaps work release for a faculty member) and resources for both those overseeing the program, and those working in it.

“We look for TAs who have been successful themselves in the course, and then we have considerable training ensure that they are equipped with a culturally responsible approach to leading. It’s an extensive process of interviewing, training and overseeing it, but success speaks for itself,” she says.

“TOSS has also taught me to be more organized and time conscious, and it has given me a great opportunity to make lots of friends, too,” said Mwai, who has begun to apply to medical schools for the next step in his goal to work in the medical field.