Faculty Spotlight

COLLEGE OF EDUCATION

Faculty Spotlight

Kids think holistically, according to Dr. Zeynep Isik-Ercan, associate professor and program coordinator for the Early Childhood Education. “When you focus on the big idea, they get excited,” Isik-Ercan says.

Isik-Ercan capitalizes on that excitement to engage children in project-based learning. The goal is to encourage immersion in a subject, instead of memorization, to allow children to experience more authentic learning.

At West Avenue Elementary School in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, first graders learned all about dinosaurs. Thanks to a Professional Development School (PDS) partnership, College of Education faculty extend their own teaching into the elementary school, leading professional development workshops for the teachers. Isik-Ercan worked in tandem with West Avenue teachers to develop the four-week, project-based unit.

The students built a dinosaur museum in their classroom, relying on their budding reading, writing and research skills to create the project. They also wrote code to design a dinosaur-themed video game and constructed digital storytelling to document and express information about dinosaurs. In addition, Isik-Ercan partnered with Rowan’s virtual reality lab, CAVE, to produce a 3D dinosaur, giving students in this lower socio-economic area the opportunity to engage with technology they may not otherwise have the chance to experience.

Isik-Ercan, her Rowan colleagues and the West Avenue team measured the impact of the project-based approach on students’ motivation to learn. As expected, students showed an increase in their autonomy, love of learning, motivation to read and overall reading score.

“Education builds a person,” Isik-Ercan says, “and it starts with early childhood education. My goal is to help teachers and teacher candidates to understand this.”

-Dr. Zeynep Isik-Ercan