UW Today

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August 7, 2008

Teachers as change agents: New UW Bothell teacher education program aims for something radical

News and Information

A new program for secondary education teachers at UW Bothell is aimed not just at producing certificated teachers but also change agents.

The program accepted its first students this past fall. And this summer the students are cutting their teeth, designing an integrated curriculum for a three-week educational summer camp for middle and high school students.

The program, called IMAGINE, emphasizes environmental stewardship and makes use of the wetland that is near the UWB classrooms. Student teachers work in teams that include several specialties so that they can plan curricula that encompass language arts, math and biology. One of the products of the camp will be the first field guide to the UWB wetlands.

“The workshops are built around three intersecting ideas,” says Cherry McGee Banks, interim director and professor in the education program. The first week, July 21-25, had the theme “Extinction or Preservation?” The second week was built around “Explorations in Nature,” while the final week highlights “Environmental Stewardship.”

The team that is leading the curriculum planning includes both regular UW faculty and clinical faculty, who are experts in the various disciplines.

“When kids connect to a real- world problem, they learn better,” says Karen Gourd, assistant professor. “Also, this method of learning connects more strongly to the ways that they learn outside of school.

“We find that, by working on an integrated curriculum, the teachers learn how their own content connects to other disciplines. It helps them understand their own subject by applying it in another context.”

Some models of teacher education emphasize just one model of how it’s done in the classroom, either the single-teacher or the team. The UWB program is designed to give teachers the necessary experience to be comfortable in a variety of environments.

But one key emphasis of the UWB approach is to graduate teachers who are change agents, says assistant professor Robin Rider. “We want our graduates to be experimental and innovative in their approach,” she says. “In whatever school environment they find themselves, they ought to be able to put together the best curricula to meet their students’ needs.”

In preparing for the second week’s lessons, a group of student teachers were discussing how to integrate language arts lessons in a session that was structured around a mathematical concept: measuring the height of a tree by measuring the length of its shadow and comparing that shadow to something of known height (such as a person). They ran through a number of possibilities, from poetry to photography to the implication of tree height for its possible uses (as a shade tree, for example), to its environmental niche.

“The experiential approach helps lay a foundation for thinking in a different way about how we educate children,” Rider says.

For most of the students in the class, this is their first experience at designing curricula. The faculty are there every step of the way, keeping them on task and supporting them. At the end of the three- week experience the faculty will help the student teachers evaluate what they’ve done, to see what elements of the curriculum worked and which need improvement.

“IMAGINE has two major goals,” Banks says. “We want an authentic field experience that will be valuable for secondary teacher candidates. We also want to engage the community and bring them to the campus. We want them to see this as their campus.”

These student teachers will go on with their field work in the fall at Jackson High School in Mill Creek, in addition to taking a teaching methods course on campus.

The secondary school certification joins a growing education program in Bothell which includes a master’s in education, an education minor, a professional certificate program, and a K-8 certificate program.