Tag: Student Teaching

Elementary ScienceSabbaticalStudent Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part One

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Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside.  The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course.  Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat.  However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.

The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.”  I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household).  This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences.  Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:

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Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science!  Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well.  Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.

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Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement.  The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution.  Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?

Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf).  I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:

  1. Seek out science professional development opportunities
  2. Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
  3. Refine science units and student experiences continuously
  4. Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
  5. Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
  6. Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
  7. Allow mistakes and messes
  8. Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
  9. Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
  1. Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your          students

I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:

*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)

CollaborationSabbaticalStudent Teaching

The Cycle of Education: Students Becoming Teachers

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Education is cyclical.  Preschool students become elementary students.  Elementary students become middle school students.  Middle school students become high school students.  High school students become college students.  AND…college students become teachers of all of the above (some, anyway).

When examining how to improve the educational experiences of our public school students, we need to look at the collaborative efforts being made (or not made) by all of the parts of the education cycle.  To some degree, all of these institutions leveled by age communicate with one another.  This communication is vital as educators inform each other of what they are doing, so that they are ensuring smooth transitions from one school building to the next – or at least they should be.

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The one lug nut that may need to be adjusted and tightened the most in the education cycle is at the collegiate level.  I am NOT implying that education departments are not doing their jobs – far from it, actually.  What I am suggesting is that the communication and partnerships between collegiate education departments and public schools need to increase – starting with public schools seeking out opportunities to assist their local colleges and universities where there are needs.

A few weeks ago I met with Elisabeth Johnston of Plymouth State University (PSU).  The department of Early Childhood Studies at PSU is transforming the student teacher program into extremely valuable opportunities for aspiring educators.  Instead of the run-of-the-mill student teacher experience of 1) observing a classroom, 2) taking on some teaching responsibilities, then 3) teaching a classroom solo for a week or two, the program collaborated with schools around New Hampshire in order to produce better prepared teachers for our students by creating a yearlong internship.  During the fall semester the interns spend two and a half days a week and in the spring semester they will be working with the same mentor educator five days a week.

Student teachers from the Early Childhood Studies department at PSU will be able to work with public school educators from day one – actually in some instances before day one – in order to become the best first year teachers they can be.  They will work side-by-side educators to see the process of preparing for a new school year and be a part of the first several weeks of school with all of the challenges and adjustments that go with it.  Lastly, their student teaching experience of taking on the responsibilities of classroom teacher will not be a small, isolated event but another valuable collaborative opportunity in which they will work a significant amount of time in the classroom, co-teaching with an experienced mentor educator.

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This year I am excited to be working with Elisabeth Johnston and her students during my sabbatical to help better prepare them for what to expect in regards to teaching science in the primary grades.  We will also work together on the how-tos of effectively planning and implementing science instruction in the classroom.  Because the importance of assisting early childhood majors in the areas of teaching reading and math are so high, topics such as science and social studies inevitably receive less attention.

Yes, the first people responsible for guiding students teachers down the right path are their professors.  However, elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their districts should also start considering putting “help local student teachers where there is need” near the top of their list of responsibilities.  This will, without a doubt, ensure a healthier education cycle.