Friday, August 27, 2010

Another New Beginning

The time just before a new semester starts is always a magical time full of antcipation, excitement and nervousness. I've been involved in Higher Education in one way or another since 1974 but the start of a new semester is always the same. New students to meet, new things to learn, new challenges to meet, and the lessons learned from the previous year to remember. The most important thing is that although I might be teaching a course for the fiftieth time, I must remember it's the first time the students are taking it. The same is true of Commencement. I must make sure that the experiences are as new and exciting for me as they are for the students. My math/science education course begins Thursday, September 3, and it may well be the 50th time I have taught it, but last year I completely redesigned the course based on the Bridges math program that's used in local area schools. The Math learning Center, the program publisher, sent me a complete copy of the program so I have the same materials teachers are using to teach math in the K - 5 classrooms my students will be working in. I'm really excited to fine tune it this year as the students seemed to really enjoy it last year. On their course evaluations two students even said they wish they could take the course again. I can't think of a higher complement. I absolutely love teaching the math/science course because I really want my students to understand the math they will be teaching. For example, a square number is a square number because it makes a square (9 makes a 3 x 3 square) and not because "it's a number times itself". More about that later. In the meantime, here's my Math Ed website.

On Tuesday, I begin teaching a course, Schools and Society, that I haven't taught in 15 years. It's an intro to the field of Education and I'm very excited by the prospect of being in on the development of students' first thoughts and ideas about what teaching and learning mean. The course is pretty much planned and ready to go but I never like to have things completely "sewn up" as it were. I like to leave some details of the course organization and content undetermined so that the students can select some of the content and learning strategies based on their interests and who they are as learners. The first part of the course will focus on theory and will involve considerable reading. In the second part, the students will spend three hours a week in an elementary school classroom which will help them see the theory in practice as well as help them decide if they really want to be teachers. Teaching isn't for everyone and it's important to help the students decide, by the end of the semester, whether they will continue on in the Education program to become licensed elementary or secondary school teachers.

We are blessed with a wonderful variety of schools within a ten-mile radius of SMC so students will get to experience several different types of schools by the time they graduate. The Burlington area is a "resettlement center" so many of the schools are like microcosms of the entire world. There are almost forty different languages spoken by students in classrooms in Burlington and Winooski which present teachers with both challenges and gifts in their daily teaching. My research interests in teaching math to ELL students comes directly from the time I spent working in one of the Burlington schools the year before I started work at SMC. More about that later.

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