Learning experience

Learning experience

Pacific’s College of Education is taking a new approach to teacher training, embedding science and math professionals in the diverse, high-needs Woodburn School District.

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It’s too quiet for a classroom filled with 20 teenagers.

There are no whispered side conversations, no papers crinkling as notes are folded and passed, no tell-tale click of a texting phone.

There’s also nearly no participation.

For 42 minutes, Kevin Carr stands at the front of a classroom in Woodburn’s Academy of International Studies, teaching ninth- and 10th-grade students ways to visually represent algebraic functions. He wanders back and forth, projects students’ work on a screen, asks questions, tells stories and even cracks a few jokes.

Carr is no stranger to teaching. Originally a high school physics teacher, he’s now a professor in Pacific University’s College of Education, teaching others to lead middle and high school classes.

Still, the students here resist his charms. They remain stoic, respectfully attentive but unmoved by his prompts for class participation.

“You’re right,” Carr says after class, reviewing the experience with math teacher Brea Cohen, the teacher of record, and teaching candidate Chris Pokorny. “I’m still totally in the dark as to whether they get it.”

The three teachers take time to talk about the lesson, to brainstorm ways to engage the students, and to critique the delivery. 

Pokorny will try to mimic the morning’s lesson, adapting it to his own style—and a few less reticent groups of students—throughout the day.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Pokorny tells Carr. “It gives me a few ideas.”

This kind of give-and-take with an instructor is rare in most teacher preparation programs.

Under the traditional model, Pokorny may have worked with Cohen, his mentor teacher, for some ideas. He may have told Carr about the ultra-quiet class during a once- or twice-a-semester evaluation meeting. He almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to call his university instructor one evening to discuss a challenging class and have that instructor in the classroom demonstrating teaching methods the next morning.

But this isn’t the traditional teacher preparation program. Pokorny is one of six students in a Pacific pilot program that embeds potential science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching candidates in Woodburn schools for a year-long master of arts in teaching (MAT) program.

“The way the program is designed, because we’re embedded in the district, moments like this can happen,” Carr said. 

Studies estimate that the United States will need some 10,000 to 25,000 new STEM teachers annually. President Obama has touted the need to recruit and train math and science teachers as part of his education platform, and a public-private partnership called the 100K in 10 campaign has drawn commitments and money from everyone from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to NASA to Google. 

The National Science Foundation administers the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which helps professionals in math and science go back to school to become teachers.

Photo courtesy of Washington County Heritage Online

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