Ideas Lab: Tang Institute
May 02, 2018

2018-2019 Fellows and Projects Announced at Tang Institute

Institute's fellows will work together, individually in core areas, including the new Interdisciplinary Initiatives
by Jenny Barker

The Tang Institute at Phillips Academy is pleased to announce 17 fellows who will work together and individually on 14 new and continuing projects during 2018-2019.

New projects will delve into topics that include promoting mastery learning through portfolio assessment, fostering “data-driven” classroom experiences, and developing digital resources for religious studies, among numerous other efforts. Ongoing work includes projects on online and hybrid course materials, the science of learning, and the role of temperament in shaping teaching and learning.

In partnership with Interdisciplinary Department Chair David Fox, the Institute will also support six interdisciplinary projects, including course development, research, and other explorations led by eight instructors in Interdisciplinary Studies. These instructors are developing courses that explore the connections between math and art, history and climate change, and statistics and citizenship, among others.

Expanding Work in Multiple Areas

The creative faculty responses to our call for proposals in fall 2017 demonstrated the enthusiasm, imagination, and focus on partnership that exists within the Andover community. Candidates submitted ideas for expanding the Institute’s program areas of “Learning to Learn,” “Hybrid and Online Learning,” “Digital Platforms and Resources,” “Learning in the World,” in addition to “Interdisciplinary Initiatives,” the Institute’s newest program area.

Following is the complete list of new and ongoing explorations by program area. Visit our fellows page for additional information on the application process or contact the team by email. Also continue to connect with the Institute through events that feature conversations led by current Tang fellows and guests. All Tang Institute events are open to the community.


“Learning to Learn” projects center on supporting students in building skills and habits of mind that enable them to “learn about, understand, and drive their own learning.” Through practices that range from promoting academic maturation to incorporating mindfulness into daily life, these fellows are enriching how students live and learn.

Quiet Schools

Tracy Ainsworth, Instructor in History and Social Science, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Despite a renewed focus on and commitment to diversity and inclusion, most schools continue to perpetuate and reward an “extrovert ideal.” Inspired by the work of Susan Cain and the Quiet Schools project, in the second year of her project, Tang Fellow Tracy Ainsworth will continue to explore ways to effectively support the needs of introverted students and faculty members and to identify and leverage their strengths. When students and educators have a deeper understanding of the diversity and power of temperament, they can more fully nurture, value, and benefit from the ideas and contributions of others, thus building stronger and more inclusive communities.

Scientific Learning

Christine Marshall-Walker, Instructor in Biology, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Now in her third year as a Tang Institute fellow, Christine Marshall-Walker is formally assessing a curriculum on the science of learning that she developed during the first two years of her project. The overarching goal of her research is to identify and nurture specific attitudes and behaviors that promote academic maturation in students, while strengthening their love of learning. Her efforts focus on teaching students the neurobiology and cognitive psychology of learning, along with strategies for proactively managing their attention, cognitive load, sleep, and recall. During the past two years, Marshall-Walker has embedded a co-curriculum on learning and memory into an upper-level biology course, Biol-500, and launched a new interdisciplinary science elective, "The Neurobiology of Learning, Memory and Sleep." She will devote the 2018-2019 academic year to sharing the fruits of her research widely, along with SYNAPSE, a fun, approachable set of learning strategies she has developed for educators and learners of all ages.

Promoting Mastery through Portfolio Assessment

Heidi Wall, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

Many disciplines have used portfolio-based assessment as a means of capturing student learning and growth over time and recording students’ best work. This project will explore the possibility of implementing a portfolio-based approach to assessment in the math classroom, including interrogating such questions as: How can students better identify areas for growth? How can regular reflection help in guiding their learning? Will a portfolio-based approach help support growth mindset in learning mathematics if students are not penalized for learning at different rates?


A Collaboration with the Office of Information Technology's Educational Initiatives Team (Erin McCloskey ’90, Associate Director)

Drawing upon the most promising aspects of online and in-person learning experiences, faculty are utilizing digital platforms and creating online resources to enhance teaching at Andover and open up opportunities to reach new audiences of young people.

Online Etymology

Nick Kip, Instructor in Classics, Tang Fellow

Phillips Academy’s Etymology course, which has been taught by instructor Nick Kip for more than 30 years, is deeply rooted in the history of Andover’s Classics department. In his project, Kip plans to reimagine what this course looks like and expand access to the course with hybrid and online models. Kip’s work will focus on transitioning his Etymology course material online, so as to make these resources and learning experiences available for students at PA and beyond.

Purpose and Proficiency in Spanish Curricula

Clara Isaza-Bishop, Chair of the Spanish Department, Tang Fellow

Katherine Matheson, Instructor in Spanish, Tang Fellow

In collaboration with Instructor in Spanish Edwin Escobar and the Spanish Department

How can we, as language teachers, create an authentic and meaningful curriculum that better meets our students’ needs in an increasingly interconnected world? How can we assess our students’ language skills in ways that reflect how language is used in the real world? How can we incorporate the latest brain research and understandings about effective pedagogy in language classrooms? These are some of the questions that Tang fellows Clara Isaza-Bishop and Katherine Matheson, in collaboration with Edwin Escobar and other Spanish department colleagues, will undertake together as they explore the disconnect they have seen between traditional textbook-centered curricula in high school-level language classes and the varied motivations and objectives of students learning Spanish. The goal of their project is to create a program of language study, beginning at the novice levels, that puts student interests and needs at the center, while preparing them to interact with real people, in real situations, in Spanish. Drawing upon the latest language acquisition research, the team aims to redesign the Spanish 100 and 200 level courses with a focus on proficiency, authentic multimedia resources, and innovation in instructional practices and the delivery of content.

Teaching Religious Studies: A Digital Resource

Kurt Prescott, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, Tang Fellow

Despite the fact that the vast majority of the world's population identifies with a particular religious tradition, religious studies often remains on the periphery of secondary school education. An increasingly globalized world, however, means that the need for religious literacy has never been greater. In his project work, Tang Fellow Kurt Proscott aims to design a digital resource that will meet the demands of learning in our modern age by making teaching strategies and curricular resources more accessible to secondary school educators, both at Phillips Academy and beyond.

Physics 550

Ranbel Sun, Instructor in Physics, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Caroline Odden, Chair of Natural Sciences and Physics, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

In collaboration with Instructor in Physics Mika Latva-Kokko and the Physics Department

Tang Fellow Ranbel Sun, in close collaboration with Tang Fellow Caroline Odden, Mika Latva-Kokko, and members of the Physics department, are working together to develop a diverse set of online physics modules and resources. The long-term goal of this project is to create a mastery-based Physics 550 curriculum which utilizes a hybrid approach. Using a variety of strategies, including group-based, individualized, teaching and learning techniques, a key motivation will be to test approaches that enable students to move at their own pace through certain parts of the course, in order to achieve a high level of understanding in the process. Online resources will be designed and utilized to introduce content and provide initial feedback. Class time would shift towards learning more in-depth material, exploring demos, and working with peers. These combined approaches will aim to help the students take control of their learning, be accessible to students from diverse backgrounds and levels of familiarity with the content, and promote a growth mindset.

Calculus: Continued Development of Online and Hybrid Course Materials

Matt Lisa, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Chris Odden, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

Bill Scott, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

In collaboration with the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department

This project will build upon multiple recent efforts led by Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department colleagues to design, create, and gather resources related to teaching and learning Calculus through hybrid and online means. Bill Scott, Chris Odden, and Matt Lisa will lead an effort to collaboratively reflect upon work to date and explore opportunities to continue to design the Calculus curriculum in such ways that materials can be easily used by all Department members. The further development of homegrown resources, the use of mastery-based efforts, and the incorporation of new instructional strategies will be examined as part of the yearlong effort.

Tang-SYA Collaboration: Hybrid Calculus

Matt Lisa, Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

During 2018-19, School Year Abroad (SYA) and Phillips Academy (PA) will continue to partner on implementing a yearlong, hybrid calculus course into the SYA Spain curriculum. Tang Fellow Matt Lisa will lead the design and teaching of the course. The project provides an opportunity to build upon the digital and in-person resources developed throughout the 2017-18 school year while also complementing this year’s online and hybrid Calculus materials project.


Led by Jacques Hugon ’79, the Institute’s Technology Partner, this suite of project focuses on building and integrating technology tools and platforms to streamline information and offer unique teaching and learning experiences.

Academy Compass

Joel Jacob, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Bill Scott, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

Academy Compass (Compass) enables students to take placement exams on an efficient, online testing platform in mathematics and other academic subjects. Together with Eric Roland, Precourt Director of Partnerships, and Jacques Hugon, technology partner to the Tang Institute and lead developer of the platform, Content Design Lead Joel Jacob will work closely with Andover faculty and faculty of the partner schools who use Compass for their custom placement tests. This continuing effort provides an opportunity to pilot the Compass platform with partner schools and to understand its use in diverse, new contexts. Besides working closely with faculty to design custom assessments, Jacob will also build statistical models, using data from existing tests, to assess both the effectiveness of the questions in use, as well as the logic underlying the placement of students in each school’s curriculum.

Andover Math Problems Database

Joel Jacob, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow (Continuing)

Bill Scott, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

Andover Math Problems (AMP) was initially developed as a problem-creation sandbox for math problems used in assessments on Compass, as well as a persistent, catalogued repository for these problems for the use of our faculty. There are now more than 3,000 math problems stored in AMP, used for math tests deployed on behalf of six different organizations. Recent conversations have surfaced the potential for AMP to serve the needs of a larger audience. The aim is for AMP to serve as a playground where faculty and students can collaborate on problems and solutions and practice academic skills; to support the authoring of content for other academic subjects; and to build an API to integrate with external platforms.


Led by Carmen Munoz-Fernandez, Learning in the World programming supports Phillips Academy’s commitment to educating global citizens. With programs in diverse regions of the world, LITW gives Andover students the opportunity to study off campus and experience a culture unlike their own.

Creating a Niswarth Global Network

Raj Mundra, Assistant Dean of Students, Instructor in Biology, Tang Fellow

Since 2004, the Niswarth program has developed a unique pedagogy and curriculum that has built a kind of understanding that connects scholarship and friendship with field experiences and internal reflection. During the past two years, program leaders have documented the model and, in conjunction with campus colleagues, started to gather data about the impact on students and for organizations. Through this project, the opportunity to share the program’s comprehensive approach, invite a larger discussion among teachers and schools, and launch a global Niswarth network of schools and organizations will be explored.


In response to the 2014 Strategic Plan’s call for increasing interdisciplinary-learning opportunities for our students and embedding intellectual inquiry into race-class-gender-sexuality and other axes of identity into the academic program, Phillips Academy has launched the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and placed it in partnership with the Tang Institute. In partnership with Interdisciplinary Department Chair David Fox, the Department and the Institute will support the following efforts in 2018-19.

Tang Fellows in Interdisciplinary Studies (Faculty members who are leading Tang Institute projects with connections to interdisciplinary studies)

The Data-Driven Classroom

Nicholas Zufelt, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, Tang Fellow

There is incredible interest and ability among our student body to use technology to create deeper connections to both their fellow classmates and other members of our community. Tang Fellow Nicholas Zufelt will work to nourish these connections between computer science and other disciplines through helping interested faculty members add computing elements to their curriculum, including tools such as data visualization and statistical modeling, simulation of social or scientific systems, discussions of ethics and technology, or developing digital learning tools specific to their classroom. This project will also include research into the pedagogy of project-based learning approaches, including both the development and assessment of interesting, real-world projects in any discipline.

Reading with and against the Grain: A Comparison of History Textbooks from the Pacific Rim

Hijoo Son, Instructor in History and Social Sciences, Tang Fellow

By examining how history textbooks across the Pacific Rim (including South Korea, Japan, China, and the U.S.) narrate history, students will read various contesting and contentious narratives that bring light to the ongoing debate on history writing and rewriting. To what extent can comparative reading of textbooks in translation as primary sources be helpful in cultivating global Andover students? How can such readings help us envisage a multiply-situated Asia, one that presents particular challenges in today’s geopolitical world as China reclaims its hegemony, Japan reignites debates about militarization, and a still-divided (post) Cold War Korea becomes a battleground again? Simply, what do Asian high school students learn vis-à-vis U.S. students in history textbooks?

The Rainbow at PA

Marisela Ramos, Instructor in History and Social Science, Tang Fellow

One of the challenges of creating a safe and accepting LGBTQ+ campus and community is that sexual orientation is not necessarily visible. Quite often, the sexual orientation of the members of our community is not something we can measure by looking around at its members. Instead, we have to rely upon the built landscape, whether that be through the presence of visual cues (a rainbow flag or a safe-zone sticker) or some other marker to signify the acceptance and expression of LGBTQ+ people and cultures. In her project, The Rainbow at PA: Making the Invisible Visible, Marisela Ramos will investigate and implement strategies for helping to make our campus one that visibly welcomes, represents, and embraces LGBTQ+ students and adults.

The following faculty members are Instructors in Interdisciplinary Studies who are offering Interdisciplinary courses and contributing to the development of the department.

Astrobiology: Life Among the Stars

Caroline Odden, Chair of Natural Sciences and Physics Department, Tang Fellow

Jerry Hagler, Instructor in Biology

Astrobiology: Life Among the Stars will embark on a journey to explore the field of astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe, on and beyond planet Earth. The course will begin the exploration by studying the fundamentals of relevant sciences—physics, astronomy, chemistry, and biology—and will then apply these sciences to understand the potential requirements and limitations of life on Earth as well as on other planets and moons in our solar system. As students learn about historical and current efforts to detect life on these bodies, the class will consider objects resident in our own solar system, including Mars, the moons of Jupiter, the moons of Saturn, and other solar system bodies such as Ceres and Pluto. Next, students will expand their view to include other possible abodes of life outside of our solar system as discovered by modern astronomers and modern instrumentation (i.e., the Hubble and Kepler space telescopes). Finally, the course will examine the role of fictional alien biology on the human imagination through literature, film, and music.

Natural Causes: How Climate Wrote History

Marcelle Doheny, Instructor in History and Social Science

Jerry Hagler, Instructor in Biology

The impact of human activity on the behavior of the earth’s climate has become one of the overriding concerns of the modern world, making climate change the central environmental problem of our time. Anticipating the impact of climate change on modern civilization, however, is not an easy exercise. Past climate change can help us to understand it as a catalyst for change that humans were not aware of, and can then help us to decide the role humans have played in the current environmental situation. Through a series of case studies, this class will investigate how civilizations have been influenced by weather and climate change. Starting with a historical overview of broad changes in climate, students will investigate specific instances when weather has influenced the course of history. How, for example, did winter weather protect Russia from invasion by first Sweden, then Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany? The class will then expand its scope to examine the larger and longer-term influence of climate shifts on the course of regional civilizations such as the Maya in Central America, the Tang Dynasty in China, and the Harappan/Indus Valley civilization. The third group of case studies will examine the impact of global climate shifts on the interaction between civilizations on a continental scale. Examples could include the rise and spread of the Mongol civilization from central Asia to Eastern Europe and eastern Asia. The term will end with an examination of the possible consequences of climate change on the future course of modern civilization.

Math and Art Collaboration

Therese Zemlin, Instructor in Art

Sue Buckwalter, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science

How can mathematicians use art to create proofs and how can artists use math as a basis for concept and imagery? How can these connections help to clarify or develop both mathematical and artistic processes? Students in this class will be using math to generate designs and structures that will function as the starting point in the creation of unique and expressive works of art. Students can expect to complete three to four projects utilizing mathematical topics. The class will explore mathematical areas such as sequences, geometry, number theory, and transformations along with art studio processes such as painting, collage, folding 40 Return to Table of Contents (origami), drawing, and building with welded wire. On-campus field trips will include the Addison Gallery, the Knafel Map Collection, and the Peabody Institute.

Project-Based Statistics

Noureddine El Alam, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science

This is a community-based learning statistics course that will enable students to implement learned knowledge to work with communities. This curriculum-driven project contains a civic responsibility component that ties in with the concept of citizenship. Students will apply their knowledge immediately and beneficially as they “bring numbers to life” in collaboration with the PA community and local nonprofit organizations. For instance, students potentially would be able to collect, organize, interpret, analyze, and project data to help the Admissions Office, Dining Services, the Brace Center for Gender Studies, College Counseling Office, Archives and Special Collections, and other departments of interest at PA. Similarly, students can assist worthy causes in the wider community, working with those entities to tell stories with numbers.

The following Interdisciplinary Instructors will receive summer and professional development support for seed projects and research into the following areas:

Independent Schools, Institutional Whiteness, and Racial Socialization

Megan Paulson, Instructor in History and Social Science

When tasked with exploring their own identity, white students traditionally are familiar with only three options in regards to racial understanding: colorblind, ignorant, or racist. Megan Paulson believes that independent schools themselves face a similar conundrum. While most schools have diversity written into their mission statements, meaningful, historical, institutional self-examination through theoretical lenses such as Critical Race Theory are still needed to adequately construct and implement a shared vision. Schools cannot move forward to a shared vision without talking about and understanding the ways in which white identity politics shape climate and culture in the microcosm of the independent school and macrocosm of the U.S. and the world. In her project, Paulson will seek to hone a workable, research curriculum that explores whiteness (as well as non-white identity politics) and the ways in which it shapes our communities.

Andover Arts Awareness

Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater and Dance

In affiliation with the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, this project will provide faculty with data and other resources that will enhance understanding of the important role that arts education plays in the health, wellness, and development of students. Arts education is collaborative and multidisciplinary in nature. The goal of the project is to use performing and visual art to create and share strategies to build empathy and cultural competency.


The Tang Institute helps to prepare students for today’s complex and interconnected world. Our faculty fellows are at the heart of our work; they collaborate with partners and students to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Through an exchange of knowledge on campus and in education more broadly, we aim to explore, test, and introduce impactful learning experiences to students at Andover and beyond.

Within our purpose is a commitment to four emerging areas in education: learning to learn, hybrid and online learning, digital platforms and resources, and interdisciplinary initiatives.

Categories: Fellows, Featured

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