Expert Pitch: Back-To-School 2019

Lara Perez-Felkner, associate professor of higher education and sociology at FSU.
Lara Perez-Felkner, associate professor of higher education and sociology at FSU.

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) 645-9693

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

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, associate 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.” 


Lyndsay Jenkins, assistant professor, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems:; (850) 644-9445

Jenkins’ research interests focus on bullying prevention. Jenkins also leads FSU’s Bullying Prevention Research Team, which includes undergraduate and graduate students at FSU. The team looks for ways to better understand bullying and how it can be decreased by improving peer and adult responses.

“We need to think much more broadly about bullying and victimization. It’s not just something that happens between two people, but it’s something that really involves everyone at the school. We need to encourage more kids to be defenders.”


Heidi Gazelle, associate professor of psychology; (850) 644-5722

Gazelle’s research focuses on how socially anxious youths’ strengths and vulnerabilities interact with interpersonal supports and stressors in their everyday environments (school, peers and family) to influence their social and emotional development.

“We see a lot of heterogeneity in anxious solitary children, so the main thing to pay attention to is if your child is fitting in socially and has friends. We find that many anxious solitary children do fit in and make friends, and we have a lot of evidence that tells us that’s very important to their healthy development. But other anxious solitary children struggle more and experience peer exclusion.” 


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

Perez-Felkner’s most recent research delves into opportunities for students to more successfully complete college degrees, especially in computing and engineering fields. Her research uses developmental and sociological perspectives to examine how social contexts influence the college and career outcomes of women, underrepresented groups and low-income students. Using multiple methodologies including randomized experimental design, she focuses on the mechanisms that influence whether students 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, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems:; (850) 645-2371

Becker’s current research involves synthesis projects regarding reading disabilities, teacher knowledge and teacher qualifications. She also has expertise in psychometrics and large-scale assessment. Becker serves on the Design and Analysis Committee for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Florida K-12 Assessment Technical Advisory Committee as well as on the Steering Committee for Postsecondary Assessment of Teachers and Leaders in Florida.


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. 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.”