The course has been designed with the following learner-centered practices and sound educational principles at its core:
Learning by Doing
In order to help students overcome any barriers they have towards science and mathematics, and to help them develop more positive attitudes and dispositions towards these subjects, they need to experience a hands-on, inquiry approach to their own learning. Participating in hands-on activities themselves helps them to feel more comfortable and prepared to present the activities to children. This focus on teachers as investigators and learners, like their young students, is a natural way for them to build their own knowledge of science and mathematics content as well as learn strategies for promoting children’s learning in these subjects. Both pre-service and in-service teachers have consistently reported that the experience of engaging in the activities in the same way that children do allows them to focus on their own “meaning making” as learners, and to then step back and analyze the process from an educator’s perspective and to build a deeper understanding of the teacher’s role.
A constructivist approach shifts the focus from a passive transfer of knowledge from teacher to student to a model in which students are actively involved in their own process of learning. In this view of learning, students are involved in a creative act, constructing meaning based on their own prior experiences and new information. All students have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge. They need to connect their new learning to this knowledge/experience base. By tapping into and building on their prior knowledge, an effective instructor can help them make personal connections to course content and topics. Additionally, this pedagogy models the importance of drawing on their own students’ prior experiences as a crucial aspect in constructivist teaching.
One of the most meaningful ways to help students successfully translate what they learn in this course to young children is through instructor modeling. When the instructor demonstrates and facilitates the math and science activities much as they would be done with children, the message comes through clearly that what is modeled in the college classroom is what should be evident in students’ own teaching. Having your students take on the role of children while you model instructional techniques, helps them better understand concepts from both the perspective of the child as well as that of the teacher. Since our goal as methods instructors is to have pre-service students become successful teachers, teacher educators then, must model these techniques.
Because learning experiences that cut across curricular areas are important for children’s conceptual development, each class session is structured to incorporate multi-sensory learning along with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements. The course is designed to demonstrate how children’s growing science and math content knowledge and their developing language and literacy skills support each other. Other developmentally appropriate domains of learning such as social/emotional development and gross and fine motor development are addressed as well. The value of play and creative exploration are stressed throughout the course with many real classroom examples provided to help build learning connections.
Community of Learners
Creating a community of learners is the foundation of effective teaching. Early Learning in Math and Science is designed to be a collaborative learning experience in which all students are actively engaged and feel that they are valued members of the community. This approach embraces the idea that we are all learning from each other - students from teacher, teacher from students, and students from students. A rich diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences help all of us grow. Some practices that help create an inclusive classroom culture are:
- Making students feel welcome by making the effort to learn about their backgrounds and interests. Share yours as well!
- Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that your students bring to the classroom.
- Encouraging students to ask questions by explicitly and repeatedly telling them that questions are welcome and expected.
- Responding thoughtfully to all questions that students ask, even those that may seem simple or silly.
- Offering many opportunities for small group discussion.
- Providing time for reflection and feedback to ensure goals and expectations are being met.
Focus on Equity
Because of the diverse student populations typically served in colleges and universities, planning for non-traditional learners (English Language Learners, first generation college students, re-entry students, and students with varying levels of previous education) is imperative. It is important to remember that learners incorporate information in different ways (visual, auditory, interactive) and at various rates. This course intentionally uses more accessible reading materials and assignments, and focuses more on reflection and application, than on right and wrong answers. Building a classroom community of learners where students support and learn from one another also helps all students to be successful.
Easy and low-cost materials
The course uses everyday familiar items to demonstrate that materials for quality science and math experiences for young children can be simple, inexpensive, and easily accessible. Students see that many of these materials are already found in most early childhood environments, and that others can be acquired at no or at low cost. At the same time, in some cases, specialized materials are needed. An essential feature of the course design is that most of the materials used in class are supplied by the students themselves as part of their homework. As an incentive, it is recommended to award weekly points for bringing assigned items to class. Student-assigned materials are free, recycled, or very inexpensive. Students enjoy this aspect of the coursework. It’s fun for them to see the diversity of items and materials their peers provide, and they often become more motivated to find unusual and interesting things to contribute. The additional materials that the instructor needs to supply are specified on the Master Materials List. Many are low-cost, household materials or could be borrowed from a preschool. However, certain items, such as food items, science tools, some classroom supplies, and the recommended children’s books, need to be purchased.