A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Asking the right questions prepares students for careers that don’t yet exist


A surefire way to ignite a spark of indignation into Taylor Clements’ brown eyes is to call him a “Math Person.” True, he graduated from Murray State University with a major in Mathematics, but he also minored in music, played trumpet in the Racer Band, and was a Resident Counselor in the Commonwealth Honors Academy program. He did not define himself according to his major.

He remembers his mother’s advice when he started college. “Do what you love,” she said.
“I’d never give that advice today,” Taylor claims, adding that concentrating on what you love today may not serve you well tomorrow.

“You may not get a job if you just do what you love today,” he says.

After college graduation, he decided he wanted to teach, but did not want to be known as a math teacher. To clarify his perception, he quoted one of his professors from MSU’s Department of Music: “I’m an educator who happens to teach.”

To pursue his goal, he entered a graduate program at Western Kentucky University called GSKyTeach, for people with Math/Science degrees who lacked the credits for certification. The primary purpose of the program — to improve teaching and learning in math and science in under-performing schools – was a welcome challenge.

“It was phenomenal,” Taylor says. “All my career is because of that Master’s degree program at WKU.”

As he taught Algebra 2 to inner-city kids, his personal philosophy of education began to take shape. “There was nothing these kids needed less than Algebra 2,” he concluded.” They’ll never, ever need it.”

“Testing was the only reason we taught it,” he concluded.

His beliefs further evolved through experience and research. Now with a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Clements is teaching an elective in the current session of CHA. True to form, he challenges students to ask the right questions and design creative solutions by building prototypes, experimenting, learning from errors and, above all, having empathy for end-users.

This is definitely not Algebra 2.

“I want to get students to ask good questions,” he says, “instead of having great answers to bad questions.”

With that in mind, his CHA students will use questions and data to come up with solutions that increase student retention in MSU’s Honors College. They will present their prototypes to Dr. Warren Edminster, head of the Honors College, thus adding some real-world tension to the process.

Dr. Clements’ course also asks participants to question the value and results associated with Advanced Placement courses in high school, a topic these high-achievers are familiar with.

Insisting that we must find ways to ask better questions, Taylor says, “We have to do better than asking, ‘How do we get our test scores up?’”

Once CHA wraps up at the end of June, Dr. Clements is taking on a new job at the Christchurch School in Virginia. He will be teaching a coding class, and also Mechatronics, incorporating Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship.

“We’ll be working on authentic problems in the community,” he says.

Learning at Christchurch School, according to the website, is focused on, “Understanding deeper concepts and developing the critical thinking skills that will serve students long after test scores have been forgotten.”

Equipped with these skills, graduates are ready to pursue any career they choose, even those not yet imagined. And Dr. Taylor Clements will gladly facilitate that process.

For more information on Design Thinking and the top-10 Design Thinking ideas of the year, visit medium.mybridge.co.

Information about MSU’s CHA program is at www.murraystate.edu.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.


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