Amazing learning takes place during a 45-minute science lesson. "I learned that gravity pushes things down," Dylan said. The second grade student and his classmates at Reno's Westergard Elementary School in Washoe County School District were repeating science concepts after constructing a newspaper tower strong enough to support a golf ball.
The day's lesson was force and motion. And two sets of students occupy the room: 28 engaged 8-year olds and two preservice teachers, Robin Hollen and Adriana White, who have begun field-based teaching to master classroom management, lesson planning and self-evaluation.
"College of Education students teach science in elementary school classrooms as a requirement of their first college content course," said John Cannon, associate professor in the department of Curriculum, Learning and Teaching (CTL).
Cannon instructs, observes and evaluates 18 preservice teachers during the semester, moving from elementary school classroom to classroom to monitor their interaction with the children, lesson implementation and whether they collected information throughout the lesson to ensure that the kids learn science.
"Our faculty is committed to preparing students to work with children and instill an excitement for science that might otherwise be lost," he said. "By the time our students graduate, they have taught science to children during all four years of their university undergraduate education."
Cannon's keen observation is integral to the success of field-based teaching. He is perched quietly on a stool in the back of the room. His eyes rarely leave the preservice teachers and the kids as they progress through the lesson.
Cannon completes and reviews a Science Teaching and Observation Protocol with his students at the end of each lesson. The preservice teachers use his comments to improve their instruction.
"We use our time after the science lesson to develop reflective practitioners," Cannon said. "This helps the student to think through what worked, what didn't, and how they can continually improve instruction. It is the basis of the academic experience in the College of Education."
The assessment tool reflects local and national standards and will comprise a significant portion of their grade by the conclusion of the semester.
Karen Rich has taught for more than 30 years and opened her classroom to CTL students when the program began more than 15 years ago. "This program is such a benefit to our kids and to us," she said. "The student teachers are extremely well prepared for each lesson, they invest tremendous energy and enthusiasm in teaching our kids, and they are learning important skills that will help them be better teachers."
Hollen and White bring the lesson to an end by asking the kids to explain what they've learned. White has photographed each team of kids beside their tower and golf ball to document their success.
"The kids just shrill with excitement when I tell them that the university student teachers are coming to teach science," said Maryanne Kass, team teacher for the second grade class. "They feel special and they learn science."
Kass is an ardent supporter of the program. "I must approve every single lesson before it's taught in my classroom, and I participate in evaluations of the students. It makes me so happy to write letters of recommendation for the program completers, watch them graduate and begin teaching careers of their own."
The kids turn in their sketches at the end of the lesson. "I didn't think it would work but it did. We feel like heroes," said Skylr McCormick.