Steve Coxon, PhD

Steve Coxon

Hands-On, Minds-On Learning

Retooling, refining, and rethinking Big Ideas, such as the long-held theory that students learn best by doing, is a hallmark of classrooms and programs facilitated by Steve Coxon, PhD, assistant professor of education in the School of Education.

“I’m putting into practice the ideas of constructivism—a very big concept that’s been around for a long time, but it’s difficult to implement,” Coxon says. “I view it as hands-on, minds-on learning.”
School of Education classes are chunked into two and one-half hour class periods, which provides ample time to demonstrate, then practice, teaching strategies, Coxon says.

“The most important thing in working with both in-service and pre-service teachers is to model, and then have our students practice what you’d like to see them doing with their students,” he says.

Along with other courses, Coxon teaches Integrating the Arts, designed to help students incorporate the arts in the core subjects of math, science, social studies, and communication arts. It’s another excellent idea that education has grappled with for decades, he says. Coxon has recruited colleagues in other disciplines to devise new ways to achieve the goal.

“One of the biggest challenges is incorporating creativity into mathematics,” he says. “Jessica Senne, assistant professor of interior design and an architect, came into class and demonstrated math-focused activities within architecture.” John Baltrushunas, professor of art, helped students combine the arts with science through a project to design camouflage using mixed media, and Alden Craddock, PhD, associate professor of education and director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Democracy, worked with students to create a digital story on a social studies topic. They then used the digital story in actual classrooms as part of a curriculum they developed.

“Learning by doing is about how to teach young students to be innovative,” Coxon says. “I can show Maryville students the basics of something, and how to learn more, but when a student figures something out, say, how to edit a segment in Garage Band software, they suddenly become the classroom expert. That’s what I want them doing with their future fourth graders.”

Throughout his teaching career, Coxon has long held to an ethical imperative to serve all children, especially disadvantaged children. He continues to pursue such emphasis through the Young Scholars program, which addresses the gap in minority students served by gifted programs, and the Summer Robotics program, which provides enrichment in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.

“Through Young Scholars, we’re training teachers to be excellent teachers of all kids,” he says.

The Summer Robotics program also has tremendous community impact. It serves nearly 450 children in 50 challenging, exciting classes. Coxon hires more than a dozen recent Maryville graduates to serve as teaching assistants, and the program is an official practicum site for graduate students seeking gifted education certification.

Michael Dragoni, ’09, ’13, earned his undergraduate degree in education, his master’s in educational leadership, and his certification in gifted education through Maryville University.

An art education teacher, Dragoni recently shifted his focus to gifted education after hearing Coxon speak on Young Scholars. “Passion for a subject can be inspirational and influence lives,” Dragoni says. “This is what Dr. Coxon does for his students.”