Building a Foundation for Participation in the Digital Revolution:
The Partnership for Excellence in Teacher Education
University of Texas at El Paso
The myriad tasks of teaching, such as selecting worthwhile learning activities, giving helpful explanations, asking productive questions, and evaluating students’ learning, all depend on the teachers understanding of what it is that students are to learn.
Ball and McDiarmid, 1989
Technology has become an important instrument in education. The American public imagination has been captured by the ability of communication technology to record and classify large bodies of information rapidly and the availability of a global audience. The computational, graphing, statistical and programming capabilities of today’s technology make it possible to explore information in ways that were previously inaccessible. Most people believe that, if only the schools could get the best technology and train teachers how to use it, the wonders of the Information Age will come to K-16 education (Snider, 2000). Internet access in schools has increased substantially in recent years. In 1996, 65 percent of public schools reported access to the Internet (NSF (b), 1998). Access was more likely in secondary than elementary schools, in more affluent schools, and in schools with low to moderate minority enrollments. Science and mathematics educators acknowledge the potential benefits of technology and recommend that all students have regular access to computers and other tools such as calculators. However, there are no national data that affirm that the presence of technology in itself is spurring achievement gains in mathematics and science nationwide (NSF(b), 1998). Participation in the "digital revolution" is more than the availability of technology. The use of new technologies in classrooms, or the use of any learning aid for that matter, is never solely a technical matter. The new electronic technologies, like any other educational resource, are used in a social environment and are mediated by the dialogues that students have with each other and teachers (Bradsford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). Highly qualified science and mathematics teachers, at all levels, are necessary for all citizens to participate this Digital Revolution.
No one would argue the need for teachers to know their content. Many middle school mathematics and science teachers fall short in meeting recommendations for coursework preparation made by national associations of teachers. The problem is particularly acute in mathematics. Only 7 percent of middle school mathematics teachers have taken courses in all recommended areas and about one-third have completed none of the coursework recommendations (NSF (b), 1998). Frequently teachers are assigned to teach outside of their fields. Principals report that they have vacancies that they could not fill with a qualified teacher. As a result principals use substitutes, hire less qualified teachers, or cancel courses (The Education Trust, 1996). 40 per cent of high-school mathematics courses in high-poverty schools have no training in mathematics.
Professors in colleges and universities who engage seriously in preparing educators for the nation’s schools straddle two cultures: that of higher education and that
of the K-12 educational system. The teaching and learning that takes place in a classroom is at the front line of systemic reform. It is tempting to assume that apparent improvement in the academic qualifications of candidates translates into a good crop of new teachers and to relax attention paid to intellectual traits (habits or practices) desired in good teachers. Certainly this assumption has been clearly accepted as to the abilities of university professors to produce good students. However, having knowledge of a subject and competence in teaching it are two different qualities ( Cruickshank & Associates, 1996). Students isolate knowledge according to course expectations without realizing how the content fits or how to utilize the knowledge when teaching. Teachers in training often pick up this pattern of behavior and transfer it to their own classrooms.
A primary challenge facing teacher educators is creating learning environments in which students learn to teach mathematics and science, but also learn mathematics and science more deeply while learning about the place of these subjects in the school curriculum and in the classroom (Comiti & Ball, 1996). A standards-based approach to teacher education that is field based provides one way to create such a learning environment. To develop and work with standards-based teacher education, public schools, and teacher education programs must encourage a " community of learners" that provide student teachers with an environment in which they learn "how to teach," deeply learn subject matter knowledge and reflect on and discuss pedagogical content and the role of technology.
To develop and support these "communities of learners" so preservice teachers benefit from their training, teachers and university faculty must be knowledgeable about content standards, must collaborate and form their own community of learners, and agree upon the nature of learning and the types of experiences (Knudson & Wiley, 1997). In addition, university faculty must work to integrate their individual course curriculum and class activities to build the strong content and pedagogical bases necessary for a strong foundation in the Digital Revolution. The creation of such a collaboration results in a powerful restructuring of the curriculum that links courses and coursework so that there is coherence in the topics and activities across courses and there is increased intellectual interaction between faculty and students (Gabelnick, et al. 1990; Della-Piana, et al. 1999; Shapiro & Levine, 1999).
The computer and associated technologies are important additions to a culture and to the field of education. New tools of technology have the potential of enhancing learning in many ways. However, a large percentage of information available through technology may, or may not, be accurate, useful, or even relative to educational progress. The tools of technology need to be assessed carefully concerning the cognitive, social, and learning consequences of using them. The tools of technology alone are no more useful than pen and ink if the user is incapable of discriminating between useless information and "quality" application of information in the Digital Revolution. An effective teacher still needs the experience and skills to discriminate, transfer, and apply technology in order to produce citizens capable of success in the "information age."
Partnership for Excellence in Teacher Education (PETE)
Partnership for Excellence in Teacher Education (PETE) is a NSF funded project to promote reform in the teaching and learning of mathematics and science in regards to the preparation of teachers who will teach mathematics and science. One of the four main goals of the PETE program is to redesign the teacher preparation curricula for selected education, mathematics, and science courses to reflect current research on learning and teaching. Americans hold positive attitudes toward science and technology (NSF, 1998 b). Participation in a Digital Revolution using mathematics and science cannot be fully explored until a standards-based program with a strong content and pedagogy foundation is established. The PETE collaborative has formed a unique learning community among colleges, schools, and students. The Fall pilot program consists of teams of teachers from mathematics, physics, and education integrating their activities and curriculum on site at professional development schools. The university classes will be taught in actual public schools and the university students will go directly into classrooms (one hour per class block) to teach content and model pedagogy. Faculty from both the Colleges of Science and Education with input from teachers will observe their teaching performance. Immediate written feedback will be given the university students and they will in turn keep reflective analysis logs of their experience in class and classrooms. The pilot is based on the following underlying assumptions.
·Traditional teacher education programs and student teaching experiences do not provide enough time for preservice teachers to teach mathematics or science in actual classrooms. This limited experience in mathematics and science teaching reinforces the low confidence level of most teacher education students in their ability to understand and teach these subjects.
·The field-based pilot will provide university students an opportunity for immediate application of their knowledge and skills in actual classroom settings in a real public school environment with feedback from university teams and public school teachers.
·The team teaching between faculty in Colleges of Education and Science will integrate mathematics and science concepts with an active application of teaching and learning.
·The project will develop an understanding of the problem-solving process from the cognitive point of view, using problem solving interview protocols with peers and public school students.
·The project will develop an understanding of the social aspect of learning through analysis of video taped recordings of classroom interaction.
·Learning depends upon the match between elements (facts and skills).
·Transfer and application of knowledge can be improved by helping students become more aware of themselves as learners who actively monitor their learning strategies, resources, and teaching.
·Active and direct collaboration between university faculty from different colleges and public school faculty will reinforce concepts traditionally taught at the university and the relationship to "real world" learning and teaching.
Teacher Assessment Model
The integrated team taught field pilot model is based on the assumption that the program will increase students’ mathematics and science content knowledge, their pedagogical skills and level of teaching performance to help them become effective teachers of mathematics and science, thereby building the foundation for "quality" participation in the Digital Revolution. The illustrated model, originally designed for mathematics, on the following page shows the relationship between the three elements, content, pedagogical skills, and level of teaching performance, and how they integrate and build to guide the student into becoming an effective teacher. The teacher plays multiple roles and at any given time may be at different levels in each category. The vertices intersect at different levels of acquisition and application, which will continue to expand and develop along a continuum as new knowledge and skills are assimilated. This is the theoretical model underlying the development of the experimental pilot program.
Organization of the Team Teaching Model
Two different models are in place in the pilot program. For simplification of identification, think of them as the math block and the science block. The term block refers to a group of classes that students are required to take in the same semester and that are scheduled in a straight "block" of time. This scheduling allows for more flexibility in instruction when teachers are team teaching as the content is not taught in isolated classes Physical Science and Science Methods Model: The Science Block. The science block combines two courses, one from the College of Science and one from the College of Education. The physical science course is taught by a nuclear physicist and the education course is taught by a science methods instructor. The university students are in their final semester of college program which is called Block II. Both faculty members teach their classes in a local elementary school and both faculty are there for a minimum of six hours a week. The sample of university students is voluntary and all participants are well aware of the research, expectations, and freedom to leave this science block and transfer to another group of classes. The classes are on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30-11:30 and both professors are there for the entirety of the allotted time. The physical science course is taught using a hands-on active inquiry approach to learning. The science methods course reinforces this approach to teaching adding standards-based instruction, reflective analysis, and approaches to assessment. The course includes journal writing and pre- and post- videotaped segments of each university student teaching in classrooms. The actual teaching is balanced between the two faculty depending on the expertise concerning lesson topics. The last hour of each Tuesday and Thursday session, the university students move into classrooms and teach science lessons modeled by the university faculty. During this teaching segment the university faculty, along with the classroom teachers observe the teaching behavior and make notes concerning content and teaching skills. Suggestions for improvement are provided for each student. Before the university student receives the written feedback they have a short reflective period where they self analyze their teaching and plan for ways to improve the lesson as they perceived it. Then comparisons are made between their perceptions and the university and school faculty expectations. As the university students gain confidence in their teaching they take over the design of the lessons and turn in lesson plans prior to their teaching. All students teach two science lessons per week. 92 percent of the university students are assigned for their field placement (similar to the traditional student teaching concept) in the same school where the pilot courses are taught. The other 8 percent of students’ are in close proximity to the elementary school.
Assessment in this program includes pre- and post- content tests designed by the individual university faculty based upon their course expectations. Video segments of the students teaching are recorded the first two weeks of teaching and the last two weeks for comparison concerning the three theoretical model components. Weekly physical science tests are given on Thursdays. The lesson plans and reflective teaching sheets are graded weekly and returned. A final examination will be designed combining both course expectations.
Properties of Real Numbers, Mathematics Methods, and Curriculum Development: The Math Block.
The mathematics block combines three courses, one from the College of Science (Mathematics Department) and two from the College of Education. The university students are enrolled in the first semester of their senior year of their college program which is called Block I. The faculty members teach their classes in a local middle school with the exception of the computer work done Wednesday morning from 8:00-10:00 at the university campus. The classes are on Monday and Wednesday from 8:00-12:15 and all three faculty are there for the entirety of the allotted time. Each course represents one of the components from the theoretical model. The mathematics course (content) is taught using a project approach to learning. The mathematics methods course (pedagogical skills) reinforces this approach to teaching adding standards-based instruction, reflective analysis, and approaches to assessment. The curriculum course (performance) requires application of concepts and skills learned in the other courses. The courses have combined assignments with each instructor grading the assignment according to his or her expectations. Common assignments for all three courses include a videotape of the university student teaching, a reflective essay, written journals containing explanation of the student’s thinking as they work through the mathematical problems and the teaching act, and a portfolio of their work from the semester as the final grade. The grading scale consists of a "minus", "check", and "check plus" assigned to each project with a redo option. An established number of "check pluses" is considered an "A" and so forth. The last hour of each Wednesday session, the university students move into classrooms in the middle school and the adjacent elementary school and teach mathematics lessons modeled by the university faculty. During this teaching segment the university faculty, along with the classroom teachers observe the teaching behavior and make notes concerning content and teaching skills. Suggestions for improvement are provided for each student. Before the university student receives the written feedback they have a short reflective period where they self analyze their teaching and plan for ways to improve the lesson as they perceived it. Then comparisons are made between their perceptions and the university and school faculty expectations. As the university students gain confidence in their teaching they take over the design of the lessons and turn in lesson plans prior to their teaching. The field placement of these students is widespread through out the local school districts.
New tools of technology have the potential of enhancing learning and education in many ways. The tools of technology need to be assessed carefully in regards to the cognitive, social, and learning consequences of using these new tools. What is known about learning provides important guidelines for uses of technology in classrooms. The new technologies provide opportunities to expand the learning environment globally and enhance the use of "old" technology. Technologies do not guarantee effective learning in all subjects including mathematics and science.
In the early 20s a teacher wrote the following poem:
Mr. Edison says
That the radio will supplant the teacher.
Already one may learn languages by means of Victrola records.
The moving picture will visualize
What the radio gets across.
Teachers will be relegated to the backwoods,
And long-haired women;
Or perhaps shown in museums.
Education will become a matter
Of pressing a button.
Perhaps I could get a position at the switchboard.
While this poem illustrates a narrow definition of what technology has become, it still provides insight into an important premise: historically technological supremacy predictions appear with every advancement. Yet the Digital Revolution of the "Information Age" must still depend upon man to design, discriminate, and implement it successfully. The cornerstone of technology’s future rests on the investment in and development of competence and critical thinking in all teachers.
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