What Does 50 Years as a UConn Professor Look Like?

Dr. Thomas Goodkind looks forward to his future, as a retired faculty member.
Dr. Thomas Goodkind looks forward to his future as a retired faculty member. (Photo credit: Shawn Kornegay)

Editor’s Note: Professor Thomas B. Goodkind retires on June 1, 2015, after spending 50 years as a faculty member in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. In this special piece for Spotlight, he shares a glimpse into his countless experiences inside – and outside – of the classroom over the past half-century.

While UConn has seen many changes over the past half-century in size, focus, priorities, quality, and stature, I, too, have worked through all kinds of educational and budget changes and crises, having served under seven deans. Today I work with some colleagues who were not even born when I began teaching here in 1965!

My own interests and accomplishments over the years have been varied – but I always strived to be ahead of the curve and worked to develop courses and programs that I felt were needed.

I have taught 10 courses on the graduate and undergraduate levels, including those in elementary and middle school social studies as well as outdoor and environmental education, while working to enhance the classroom curriculum with computers and electronic media, teaching in the affective domain, introducing solar energy education, and emphasizing the importance of media literacy in an information age.

Outdoor Adventures
For many years, I worked with undergraduates and provided what I believed were important educational experiences essential for successfully working with young public school students, including a special yearly three-day outdoor education and camping experience held in rustic settings in western Connecticut.

UConn students participating in these three-day excursions learned a variety of outdoor/environmental skills for two days, followed by a third day when they instructed children who came to the camp from suburban and urban schools. These children included gifted and special education students, as well as those of various ethnic and socialeconomic backgrounds – many of whom had never before explored the natural world in a wooded setting.

Together, UConn students and these young campers took part in such activities as orienteering, rope climbing/rappelling, wildlife studies/appreciation, campsite living (building fires, cooking, pitching tents), and cooperative trust activities. Many UConn undergraduates indicated this outdoor adventure was the highlight of their UConn years.

I also taught a course, Introduction to Outdoor Education, for a number of years on campus and at the 4-H camp in Pomfret. There, UConn students had similar opportunities to teach outdoor education topics to public school students.

Double Duty
I first came to UConn in 1965, as a new college professor in teacher education. But having previously taught elementary and middle school students in Texas and Illinois, I was concerned about losing touch with the “real” teaching world – the world of public schools.

Wanting to test out James Conant’s concept of the “clinical professor,” I worked simultaneously in the South Windsor schools, teaching fifth-grade social studies for a year, employing and demonstrating what I believed were innovative teaching methods related to the five social sciences – history, geography, economics, sociology, and anthropology. I was actually “officially” hired as a teacher in the South Windsor system for $1 for the year, and was quickly asked to join the PTO for $20 – far greater than my annual salary!

The year culminated with the fifth-grade students camping out for two days while “roughing it,” recreating life on a wagon train heading West, complete with old clothes as costumes, utensils, and reworked farm wagons – all carefully previously researched to be as authentic as possible. It was quite an adventure!

On the “Tonight Show”
When the energy crisis emerged in the 1970s, I developed and taught a solar energy education course on campus and in West Hartford, as well as a noncredit extension solar energy course for the Continuing Education Program at UConn.

I received a grant at that time from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Appropriate Technology Program to develop a model solar-energy home (described as a combination solar home and/or possible solar doghouse!). I was to demonstrate the use of two alternative solar ways to heat a typical home: one an attic solar-heat collector/distributor, and the other an under-cellar rock base heated by blown-in, solar-heated air.

Two working-scale model houses the size of a large dollhouse were built by an accomplished model-builder and friend, the former principal of the Woodstock Elementary School, Ed Seney. The working solar model houses were subsequently taken to at least a dozen public schools and conferences to demonstrate to young people, teachers, and the public the potential of an innovative, almost do-it-yourself solar-energy plan for adapting and heating a typical home.

An amusing result of the solar energy grant occurred on the original “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” His writers picked up an AP newspaper story about supposed wasted government funds as criticized by a U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania at the time, and Carson made fun of my so-called “Solar Doghouse” to millions watching the TV show.

I was invited to testify before the House Science and Technology Committee in Washington, D.C. My wife and I loaded one of the model solar homes into our car and drove to Washington. The congressman arranged to have a German shepherd on site at the hearing, along with a variety of media present – presumably to demonstrate waste of government funding. However, as soon as he saw the size of the solar house and its purpose, he backtracked, realizing he had erred. The dog disappeared, and the event was very much shortened.

Resourceful Learning – Here and Abroad
Around the time of the U.S. bicentennial, in 1976, I reconditioned an old 18-foot van, turning it into the Bicentennial Studies Resource Wagon. After filling it with a wealth of mostly donated materials related to the bicentennial, the Wagon visited about a dozen public school systems as a timely resource for teachers and students to learn about the bicentennial. I was proud of the fact that the Wagon was entirely self-supporting, with gas and maintenance fees paid by the school systems, and no outside grant money needed to operate it. Former Gov. Ella Grasso viewed the Wagon at the state capitol.

Another demonstration project involved the construction of a child-sized, early New England village in an empty classroom at the old Storrs Grammar School. All of the materials used in its construction were donated or scavenged, and more than 100 K-4 students over several years used it to study life in early New England through a wide variety of hands-on activities. Several other schools visited and “lived” in the Colonial Village occasionally, and it was featured on Channel 3. The program received an award from the Freedoms Foundation.

At one point, I was also invited by the Ministry of Education in Uganda, East Africa, to develop a series of short films to help teachers to teach English as a second language in Uganda. One problem was a lack of electricity in Ugandan rural schools. Using super-8 film cameras, we filmed model teachers teaching English lessons to young children in quickly set-up outdoor schoolroom settings, as there was not enough light indoors for filming. The idea was to project these films onto the walls of rural schools in the evening – using Land Rover vehicles with inverters to power the projectors – to train teachers.

Unfortunately, shortly after I completed the project and left Uganda, Idi “Big Daddy” Amin took over the government as a ruthless dictator and seemingly purged every leader, especially Western-educated education leaders. All of those I had worked with disappeared, and I have no information whether any of them survived, nor information whether the films were ever used to train Ugandan teachers to teach English as a second language.

Meeting My Future Wife
The best thing that happened to me at UConn was meeting my future wife, Elizabeth Rowell, a UConn doctoral student in reading back in the ’70s. We collaborated on many workshop presentations at local, regional, national, and international conferences; journal articles and editorships; and an elementary social studies textbook series.

Together, we wrote and published a text Teaching the Pleasures of Reading (Prentice-Hall, 1982), which pulled together our efforts and ideas in five areas we knew children enjoyed and that would be attractive in helping them to learn the basics of reading. We believed this was an important and supplementary alternative to the usual reading instruction in school: using ideas from television, the outdoors, art, music, and humor. The book was adopted by several educational book clubs. Liz is currently in her 40th year of teaching at Rhode Island College.

Introducing Innovative Courses and Conferences
While at UConn, I developed a number of interesting courses over the years. One of them was “Life in the Old West,” an interdisciplinary summer course that ran for three years, focused on the study of the historical, anthropological, and geological life of early Native Americans, the Anasazi, and early ranching and mining interests in the four corners areas of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. We held lectures on campus first and then worked with Northern Arizona University faculty members in these specialty areas out West.

Another summer course involved travel to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and studying the disappearance of the old Mayan civilization from a multidisciplinary perspective, with a focus on the possibility of environmental issues as a major determining factor in the Mayan civilization collapse. This course was developed in conjunction with Queens College in New York with a former doctoral student, John Loret.

During the mid-’80s and ’90s, I got interested in computers and the rapidly growing use of modern technology in education. I was the first to videotape student-teachers for their self-evaluation. When one of my graduate students showed me a very short piece of computer programming that she had developed for another class – which took her all semester to complete – I realized that teachers did not have the time or the skill to develop their own computer programs for their students. So I searched for alternatives to make it easier and more practical. Using a simple authoring system from Radio Shack and its original TRS-80 computer, I eventually develop a new course on microcomputer authoring systems that was taught for a number of years.

My most recent grand adventure focused on media literacy. Besides developing and teaching the graduate course “Media Literacy in an Information Age” every semester since 2000, I focused this course on the need for developing understanding in young people, especially of the great impact of the mass media upon their lives – and their thinking, decisions, focus, and values.

In addition, from 2003 to 2013, I developed and coordinated the Northeast Media Literacy Conference, held at UConn each year, which attracted a wide range of educators, health care professionals, counselors and prevention specialists, and parents interested in exploring the impact of mass media on today’s youth. The conference also attracted top media leaders from around the world as keynote speakers and workshop leaders – including the participation during each of the last three years of 25 international media and educational leaders representing 25 different nations. These leaders were a part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which had been focusing on the growing international interest in media literacy in promoting civil society through new media technology. This diverse group represented university professors, journalists, bloggers, community activists, NGO leaders, and youth media professionals.

An Interesting Journey
During my 50 years at UConn, my wife and I have raised two great children, Walter and Alexander, now 28 and 27, both adopted as boys from Paraguay. We enjoy spending time in our lake house in Maine and on the Maine and Rhode Island shores, and traveling. I have been a cellist and string bass player practically all my life, have played in 11 orchestras and a jazz group over the years, and still currently play chamber music, primarily string quartets, every other week with musician friends in Mansfield.

Fifty years – it’s been a long and interesting journey!

Thomas Goodkind is a professor of curriculum and instruction in the Neag School of Education.