Expert Pitch: Back-To-School 2017

Gawlik’s research draws from both organizational sociology and political economics to investigate and assess the contributions made by policy and school reform initiatives

As schools across the nation begin a new academic year, there are a variety of education issues students and teachers will face in the coming weeks, including reading and math development, standardized testing and behavioral issues in the K-12 classroom.

Experts from Florida State University are available to comment on these topics:


Sara Hart, associate professor, Department of Psychology:; (850) 644-4952

Hart’s ongoing multidisciplinary research efforts integrate theories from developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, education and behavioral genetics. Her work is related to understanding how and why people differ in their cognitive development as it relates to school achievement, particularly reading and math learning. 

“Many children experience a summer slump in that they need a few months of schooling to get back to where they were at the end of the previous school year. Parents can help them get back in the learning mode. Get reading with your child. Try to read with your child for at least 30 minutes per day. A huge part of reading with your child is interacting together with a book. Ask your child questions based on the text you are reading. Have your child make up their own ending to the book.” 



Jenny Root, assistant professor, School of Teacher Education:; (850) 645-2542

Dr. Root’s research uses applied behavior analysis to design and evaluate instructional methods to teach academics to students with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. Part of this work is developing math curricula to teach problem solving using graphic organizers and technology.  

“Students with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability have trouble with generalization. This means they may not be able to apply knowledge in new situations or contexts. Teachers and parents can promote generalization by giving students a chance to practice skills with different people and in a variety of settings. Look for or create natural opportunities to practice new skills, such as adding prices of two items in a store, identifying shapes on the playground and reading a chart or graph in a magazine. Students are more likely to be able to remember and apply knowledge when they have been given numerous opportunities to practice with feedback.”

Kelly Whalon, assistant professor, School of Teacher Education:; (850) 644-8416 

Whalon teaches courses in autism spectrum disorder, assessment and single case research design. She conducts research investigating educational interventions for children with ASD with a focus on literacy/reading interventions. 

“Children with autism spectrum disorder experience a number of strengths as well as challenges associated with learning. The unique and varied learning profiles associated with ASD result in the need for at least some learning supports.” 



Marytza Gawlik, assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies:; (850) 644-8164

Gawlik’s research draws from both organizational sociology and political economics to investigate and assess the contributions made by policy and school reform initiatives.

“Charter schools are public schools that operate with enhanced levels of autonomy in exchange for accountability and are now a significant part of the American urban education landscape and a policy lever for creating equity and opportunity in underserved communities. Since the inception of school choice, more than 40 state legislatures have adopted laws promoting the development of charter schools. These laws have resulted in more than 2 million students attending more than 6,000 charter schools throughout the nation.”



Lara Perez-Felkner, assistant professor of higher education and sociology:; (850) 645-8450

Perez-Felkner’s most recent research delves into the reasons why girls often choose to forego upper-level science and math courses. Her research uses developmental and sociological perspectives to examine how young people’s social contexts influence their college and career outcomes. She focuses on the mechanisms that influence whether girls will enter and stay in fields in which they have traditionally been underrepresented. 

“Girls’ interest in math and science does not seem to dip until the beginning of secondary school. Some approaches to sustaining their interest through middle and high school include: science camps like SciGirls; recruiting girls to participate in upper-level science courses and programs like Science Olympiad; hands-on museum activities; science games and toys; pointing out positive images – real and fictional – of women scientists; and role model guest speakers from science professions not limited to health and biology.”



Betsy Becker, professor and department chair, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems:; (850) 645-2371

Becker serves on the technical advisory committees for the Florida Standards Assessment and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (also known as the Nation’s Report Card), the only assessment that provides a national view of what students in the United States know and can do. She has published on psychometric issues in large-scale assessment as well as gender differences in test performance.



Vanessa Dennen, professor, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems:; (850) 644-8783

Dennen’s research focuses on using social media to support both formal and informal learning activities. She examines how people use social media to explore identity, form community and engage in knowledge activities. She can comment on related ethical, privacy and intellectual property issues. Recent studies have focused on the role that social media plays in a high school setting and how social media networks can support professional development. Her forthcoming book, “Social Media for Active Learning” (Stylus Press), helps educators at all levels learn how to use social media to effectively engage learners. She is the editor-in-chief of The Internet in Higher Education.

“Online learning tools, which include everyday social media networks and cloud-based collaboration tools, can be used to promote active engagement through a variety of knowledge activities. When learners use these tools to interact with both people — peers and experts — and content in the online classroom, they begin to take ownership of the learning content. Online learners who are pushed to evaluate, synthesize, share, articulate, negotiate and reflect tend to become individuals who are then prepared to use the Internet’s wide array of human and content-based resources to support ongoing professional development and lifelong learning.”