Back to school experts from UW–Madison are available to share insights

As parents, students, and teachers prepare for the upcoming 2022-23 academic year, experts from UW–Madison’s School of Education are ready to share their thoughts with media members on a range of school and education-related topics.

Countdown to kindergarten (and 4K)

As a parent, one day you’re changing diapers … and the next thing you know your little one is ready to head off to school for that first year of formal education. It can be a bit of a scary time for kids — and their parents. Beth Graue, UW–Madison’s Sorenson Professor of Early Childhood Education, is a former kindergarten teacher and an expert on kindergarten and 4K practice, readiness, and home-school relations who can offer tips on how to make this big transition go more smoothly. Graue directs the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.


Study techniques that work best

Want some thoughts on how to study smarter, and not harder? Students might want to put down those highlighters and instead pick up some flashcards. Mitchell Nathan, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor with the Department of Educational Psychology, can talk about effective learning and which study techniques work best, including the benefits of taking practice tests and spreading study sessions out over time instead of cramming.


‘How the Arts Can Save Education’

Erica Halverson’s experiences over more than two decades as a teaching artist and researcher has led her to advocate for utilizing the arts in a way to fundamentally rethink what good learning, teaching, and curriculum can be. She provides a blueprint for such efforts in her 2021 book, “How the Arts Can Save Education: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Instruction,” and is also launching a new podcast on Aug. 29, “Arts Educators Save the World.” While it’s not uncommon for proponents of K-12 arts instruction to cite research that shows studying the arts in school helps students perform better in so-called core subject areas like math and reading, that’s not Halverson’s focus. Instead, her experiences as a teaching artist and researcher have led her to advocate for utilizing the arts — performing, visual, and multimedia — in a way to fundamentally rethink what good learning, teaching, and curriculum can be.


Fostering community and improving the graduate student experience

Getting through graduate school can be a difficult, isolating experience for many young scholars. Brian Burt, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, is dedicated to looking for ways to better foster community — and student success. In June, he was the lead author of a new paper that explains how a research team was able to use a series of six, interconnected cultural practices to develop a positive community that bolstered both cohesion and productivity among the scholars. And this past fall, he published a paper that examines how more caring advising practices could improve graduate students’ experiences. More broadly, Burt studies the experiences of graduate students in STEM fields, and the institutional policies and practices that influence their educational and workforce pathways.


Hands-on virtual learning

When the pandemic hit and students were forced to learn from home, science teachers had to learn how to conduct “hands-on” lab experiments virtually. While that may sound challenging, research comparing virtual and physical middle school science labs showed interesting results. Sadhana Puntambekar, the Sears-Bascom Professor of Educational Psychology with the Department of Educational Psychology, found that learning from one experimental modality may complement and supplement the relative weaknesses of the other — indicating a need for strategically combining the two. Puntambekar’s work was recognized by the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) as one of its Research Worth Reading awards — which is research that’s deemed to have the most significant impact for science educators.


Making mental health a priority

The Department of Educational Psychology is home to a range of experts in school psychology. This field centers its efforts on developing school psychologists who help children cultivate positive relationships, build skills, and achieve academic success — as well as overcome social, behavioral, and academic difficulties. It wasn’t long ago when the concept that schools should play a role in supporting a child’s mental health was met with skepticism. It’s really only the past decade or so that “we’ve gotten to the point where it’s increasingly recognized as a core part of the mission of education,” says Stephen Kilgus, an associate professor of school psychology who co-leads the School Mental Health Collaborative with associate professors Katie Eklund and Andy Garbacz.

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‘The Political Classroom’ holds potential to reduce partisan divide

Since 1997, School of Education Dean Diana Hess has researched how teachers engage their students in discussions of controversial political and constitutional issues. Similarly, she is deeply committed to working with teachers to improve the quality of civic education in schools. In 2014, Hess co-authored the award-winning book, “The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education.” Hess, who started her career as an educator as a high school social studies teacher, explains in this Q&A why helping young people deliberate, engage, and learn about sometimes controversial political topics is vital to a healthy democracy.


PurpleState aims to combat political polarization

Misinformation, polarization, and controversial issues are all topics teachers have struggled with in recent years. The online simulation PurpleState, developed by Jeremy Stoddard and colleagues, teaches students about the inner workings of political advertising and the role of media in politics, and works against factors that fuel political polarization. Stoddard, a professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, says early student evaluations have shown that PurpleState is giving students not just an appreciation of how political advertisements are made, but how political opinions are formed and influenced. He believes that understanding could combat political polarization as the students reflect on their own role in the political information environment and become more informed and engaged citizens. Learn more from Stoddard about PurpleState and how it’s being rolled out in more classrooms.


Addressing the educator shortage: Teacher Pledge

Reports of school districts struggling to find enough qualified teachers weren’t rare prior to the onset of the pandemic — and today these growing staffing challenges are placing significant strains on education systems across the nation. This is one of several factors at play in the implementation of the UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge, an innovative, donor-funded program that’s designed to help bolster the teacher workforce. The initiative “pledges” to pay the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees, testing, and licensing costs for all teacher education students. In return, graduates “pledge” to teach for three or four years at a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school in Wisconsin. Students who go on to teach in a high-need school or in a high-need subject area will fulfill their obligation in three years, while all others will do so in four. Contact Kimber Wilkerson, a professor and associate dean for teacher education, to learn more.


Censorship attempts

Efforts to restrict and prohibit children’s and teens’ access to materials in libraries and classrooms have been on the rise for the past two years. Megan Schliesman, assistant director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), can help put this topic in perspective for reporters. Administratively housed in the School of Education, the CCBC serves as a resource to Wisconsin schools, teachers, librarians, and others interested in children’s and young adult literature. Among its many offerings is the CCBC Intellectual Freedom Information Services.


Empowering autistic students and their families

Luis Columna has spent years of work breaking down barriers to physical activity for children with disabilities and their families, particularly autistic children. These efforts recently landed the associate professor with the Department of Kinesiology national recognition. Fit Families, which Columna rolled out at UW–Madison in 2020, is a research project that provides support to children with developmental disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome, by helping them get more comfortable with physical activity. Columna can share how such efforts can bolster the physical, emotional, and social growth for children with developmental disabilities, including autism.


Understanding transgender student experiences

Mollie McQuillan, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, co-edited a special issue of the journal Educational Researcher that was released this summer titled, “Trans Studies in K12 Education.” McQuillan explains this work is not only aimed at bolstering education scholars’ understanding of gender, but also at providing some ways to improve school environments for trans students and teachers. This special issue was released amid political conflict over transgender students’ rights across the country.


Are you a reporter who needs some help connecting with these faculty members? Or are you looking for education experts in other areas? Email Jody Moen, ​the School of Education’s public relations specialist, at

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