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Davidson Academy Online Instructor Perspectives

Gifted Resources

See a selection of Davidson Academy Online Instructor & Staff Q&A’s:

James Bondarchuk, Ph.D.

August 2019

What classes are you teaching at the Davidson Academy?

This term I will be teaching or co-teaching four classes: Calculus I, Calculus II, Personal Identity, and American Literature. The two calculus courses are for our online campus. The other two are traditional in-person courses at our Reno campus. Personal Identity is a philosophy elective that I designed myself. It is loosely modeled on a course I taught when I was in graduate school at Harvard, but calibrated to our advanced students who may have no experience with philosophy classes. Finally, American Literature is a class I am co-teaching with Vickie Smith-Barrios. (It would be more accurate to say that I will be the oldest student in the class.) I am one of a relatively small handful of DA instructors who teach at both campuses. I am excited to get a flavor for each.

What aspect of teaching Davidson Academy students are you most looking forward to?

I have only been here a short while, but it’s really an incredible privilege to work with such a talented and motivated student body. I became a teacher because I am fascinated by ideas, and I want to share that fascination with others. But that can be difficult to pull off, especially if students are cynical about the point of their education. But Davidson students aren’t approaching their secondary education with a cynical attitude. I think that grouping students by ability has a lot to do with that. It ensures students are always working at the outer limits of their intellectual capacities.

What unique perspectives do you bring to the Academy as you begin your first year with us?

I don’t know if this makes me unique, but I reject the paradigm of two academic cultures, made up on one side by mathematics, natural and social science, and engineering, and on the other side by the humanistic disciplines. This is reflected in my course assignments and in my own educational trajectory. (I have degrees in math and philosophy.) There’s a fairly straight line from my interest in mathematics to my interest in more existential questions. When I complete a mathematical proof, it feels as if I have just uncovered some deep structure of reality. If you’re anything like me, this relates mathematics to the kinds of questions that animate traditional philosophical inquiry: What is the nature of the world and what is my place within the world?

The 20th century philosopher Wilfred Sellars once wrote that the point of philosophy is “to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” I try to bring that kind of holistic attitude to bear on whatever I am studying or teaching, whether it’s calculus or literature. I think any field of inquiry becomes properly philosophical if you keep asking “Why?” Disciplinary boundaries are, of course, necessary and important, but they can also reinforce arbitrary divisions. It’s all just inquiry in the end.

John Knight, Ph.D.

August 2020

What classes will you be teaching at the Davidson Academy?

This year I will be teaching Early Civilizations, History of the United States, and Principles of American Government at the online campus. I’ve taught Early Civilizations before, but American history is new for me. For that class, I’m working on bringing more diverse voices into my lesson plans, incorporating the perspectives of women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. Given that it’s an election year, the material should be very timely! I’m looking forward to debating the issues with the bright students at the Davidson Academy.

What aspect of teaching Davidson Academy students are you most looking forward to?

I’ve previously taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, William College, UC Irvine, and elsewhere. One of the things I’ve learned is that, for a successful history class, student engagement is key. What excites me most about DAO is the chance to work with impassioned and dedicated learners. I expect that the students here will compare favorably to some of the best students I’ve taught at the college level.

What unique perspectives do you bring to the Academy as you prepare for your first year with us?

I’ve always been interested in learning about the “other,” whatever that “other” might be. I took a year off during college to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and then worked at a homeless shelter in London. After graduating, I taught English in China for several years, before getting a PhD in East Asian history. More recently, I’ve become interested in gender studies and the ways that cultural and biological factors shape identity. Despite becoming increasingly aware of our differences, I still maintain faith in a common humanity. Helping my students empathize with the “other” will not only help them to grow on a personal level, it will foster a better society for us all.

Jessica Potts, Ph.D.

April 2019

What classes are you teaching at the Davidson Academy?

I have a wide array of classes this year! This is my fourth year teaching Early Civilizations, which is an exploration of human history from our earliest ancestors through the Middle Ages. I’m also teaching Introduction to Literary Studies, which focuses on argumentative essays and literary analysis. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach. I taught Creative Writing as an elective in the fall, and my spring elective is Science Fiction. It’s an eclectic and challenging set of classes, but it’s never dull.

How long have you taught at the Academy, and how has the school changed since you started?

I started teaching at the Davidson Academy in January 2009. It’s hard to believe it’s already been 10 years! Our student body has grown, as has our teaching and support staff, but I think our ethos and mission have largely remained the same. We’ve developed an excellent curriculum and worked to develop best practices for profoundly gifted students, which I think makes us a leader in this niche field. I’m always blown away by the talent and dedication of my colleagues, and I’ve watched many of them complete doctorates, earn teaching awards, and present at major conferences.

The students at Davidson have established a variety of clubs and teams, and it has been amazing to watch them compete in robotics competitions, debates, and even intramural basketball games. And it’s been heartwarming to watch our growing cadre of graduates head out into the world and do amazing things. I’ve had graduates come visit me here in Prague, CZ and I’m always impressed by these ambitious and adventurous young adults. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of the Davidson family for the past decade, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years.

What are a few of the more interesting or challenging projects that you have assisted Academy students with in your classroom?

I’ve found that giving profoundly gifted students a little more free rein on projects and major assignments results in more creative, more interesting finished products. By blending a supportive set of guidelines with the encouragement to take intellectual risks, nearly every project can become something amazing.

For example, students in Introduction to Literary Studies write argumentative essays for their final project in the fall, and since they can choose their own topics, I’ve had the pleasure to read essays that students are actually passionate about. Students in all of my classes are also encouraged to push the envelope with their presentations. I’ve had students put on skits, share amazing pieces of artwork, lead brilliant discussions, and come up with thoughtful activities for their classmates. Offering more leeway can definitely be challenging for both the students and the teacher, but I am always impressed with intellectual and creative risks that the students take when they know they have freedom and support in the classroom.

How does teaching for Davidson Academy Online compare with teaching at the Davidson Academy day school?

A lot of what we do online is comparable to the brick-and-mortar practices. The curriculum is very similar, and as instructors, we work to give our online students the same levels of rigor and personalization that the students receive at the day school. However, working and learning online has a unique set of challenges. Both teachers and students must be incredibly organized and self-regulated, since we don’t have the benefit of a highly-structured daily schedule.

Our communication with our students is also quite different. While we do meet for two 90 minute live sessions each week, a lot of our communication takes place via email and Teams. Communication online takes a lot more time and effort than it does in the building, but it’s vital for student success. It can also be challenging to spend so much time in front of a computer, so online teachers and students are encouraged to stretch often, take screen breaks when possible, and balance our lives with social and extracurricular activities. While the ethos of DAO is identical to the ethos of the DA, online teaching and learning is a different beast that requires a slightly different approach. However, I’ve loved teaching online, and I’m grateful to be able to work with profoundly gifted students from all over the country.

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