The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 4, 2010

Alan Ticotsky to retire after 35 years at the Carlisle School

Alan Ticotsky
(Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Fifth-grade science teacher Alan Ticotsky is retiring this June after 35 years with the Carlisle School. During Ticotsky’s long history with the school he has witnessed many changes, including five superintendents, new methods of teaching, the introduction of MCAS, greater efforts to include children receiving Special Education in the regular classroom and the re-emergence of science, math and technology as an educational focus. He was for many years one of the school’s two Systems Thinking mentors, along with eighth-grade math teacher Rob Quaden.

Ticotsky received his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University. He started his teaching career at The Randolph School, a private school in Wappingers Falls, New York, where he taught while earning his masters degree from New Paltz State College. He joined the Carlisle School as a permanent substitute in 1975 and was made a staff member in 1976. Between 1975 and 1997 he taught in grades 1 through 4.

Published author

Ticotsky has published several books on science education. His first book, Who Says You Can’t Teach Science, was published in 1986. He later wrote three volumes in a series aimed at teachers, students and parents in grades 4 - 8: Science Giants Earth and Space, Science Giants Life Science, and Science Giants Physical Science. (See also “Carlisle Public School teacher Alan Ticotsky is a science giant,” Mosquito, April 11, 2008.)

Systems Thinking – a way to think about change

In 1998 Ticotsky and Quaden became Carlisle School Systems Mentors (Quaden part time while also still teaching math) after the school received a grant from the Framingham-based Waters Foundation. The grant specified the school was to incorporate Systems Thinking into the curriculum. The Systems Thinking tools allow students to understand the process of change over time by observing and graphing it. Students studied patterns and evaluated reasons for the observed changes. In 2004 Ticotsky and Quaden, along with Debra Lyneis, published The Shape of Change, which offers practical lessons using Systems Thinking. This was followed by: The Shape of Change: Stocks and Flows.

In 2004 Waters had decreased the Systems Thinking grant and by 2006 Ticotsky had joined the fifth-grade team as a science teacher. He continues to use Systems Thinking in his classroom as do other teachers at the school.

Ticotsky also stays active in teaching Systems Thinking to other teachers. He and Quaden are invited to give seminars at conferences on Systems Thinking and they are thinking of publishing an additional volume of activities and lessons.

Pros and cons of education trends

He expressed concern about the move in education towards “measurement-oriented teaching.” He said the education industry is “over-concerned with metrics” which causes schools to focus on data collection. “We can raise scores, but we might give up logic, problem solving, and team work.”

He said that the Carlisle School teachers are not being pushed to “teach to the test.” Ticotsky said that the Carlisle School has “the strength to hire good people. They allow folks to do what they are good at.” However, he noted that some adjustments were made to the curriculum after the introduction of MCAS. He gave an example. “The school was teaching about the types of rocks but we were not teaching enough on plate tectonics.”

One of his concerns is the use of technology and how it “pushes teachers to lecture” by having the focus on electronic whiteboards. He has made it a point to avoid lecturing, instead “keeping kids engaged with hands-on problem solving.”

Praises Carlisle’s teachers, who return the compliment

“We still have tremendous talent on the staff at Carlisle School,” Ticotsky said. When he was a systems mentor and science curriculum coordinator he was concerned, he said, that he would “meddle” with teachers. “I quickly learned to be quiet and listen, watch and learn from them.”

Contacted by email, Quaden was asked to comment on Ticotsky’s retirement. “While I am happy for Al, I certainly will miss him, both as a friend and as a valued colleague,” said Quaden. “We have worked closely together for many years and it is hard to anticipate what I will miss most: conversations about a wide range of science topics, insights in organizational behavior, or his sense of humor and witty comments. What I am certain to miss is a colleague who encourages me and supports me when exploring ways to improve my teaching. I plan to continue to work on Systems Thinking within my own class and will continue to work with Al on systems projects in Carlisle and beyond.”

Future plans include volunteer work

Ticotsky said he “still needs to work,” but not this summer. “My wife and I will vacation in Oregon,” and then in the fall, he said, “I probably will jump back in.” He said he may teach workshops and do some volunteer work in under-supported schools, “I feel an obligation and eagerness to do volunteer work.” He mused about what path he would take next. “As a teacher I was always told this is what you need to teach, and then I would do the details. I wonder now if I will do what I have been doing, or will I back up and do something completely different?”

Ticotsky looked back on his years at Carlisle. “I feel good about the job. I have been very nicely treated. I appreciate the town – it has been kind to me.” ∆

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