1/24/2013 9:00:00 AM COLLEGE COLLABORATION Student teachers make
tough subjects easy
at St. Ambrose School
STUDENTS and student teachers work on projects. In addition, students from a masterís-level literacy course at The University at Albany have met with middle school students from St. Ambrose School twice a week after school and during the summer for two years. The graduate students help about 15 sixth- through eighth-graders produce a literary magazine each semester. Mr. Leveskas said participation in this extracurricular helps his students read more critically, discuss texts more thoroughly and become more comfortable with speaking and writing.
How does a light bulb work? What makes something float or sink?
Many first- through sixth-graders at St. Ambrose School in Latham can answer those questions and then some, thanks to a collaborative program with students majoring in education at The College of Saint Rose in Albany.
"They want you to learn, but they also want you to have fun while you're learning," said Sophia Myshchuk, a fourth-grader at St. Ambrose, of the CSR juniors and seniors who have made weekly appearances in her classes since second grade. "It makes me feel in a good mood, and I want to learn a lot more about that thing."
Sophia's favorite memories include making clay boats to learn about mass and density in the second grade, making paper airplanes and weighing them on scales (and later flying them outside) in third grade and studying the inner workings of a light bulb this year.
"I was pretty excited," she said of the latter project. "I'd never known how these things work."
Math, a struggle for some children, is included on Sophia's list of subjects made easy by the young adult instructors: She can now add fractions because of the teaching aids they used.
"I think that my [student] teacher - he actually really helped us and made it funny, too," she said, confessing: "He probably knew that we didn't want to learn."
That's the idea of the collaboration, said Patricia P. Price, professor of science education and math methods at CSR. She's been teamed up with James Leveskas, principal of St. Ambrose, for more than a decade - initially at his old helm at St. Casimir's School in Albany, which closed in 2009, and for the past three years at St. Ambrose.
Up to 25 of Dr. Price's students studying elementary math and science visit the elementary school for an hour at a time. They can test lesson plans they develop and give St. Ambrose teachers a break. The student teachers employ hands-on methods to teach about topics like simple machines, fractions, measuring and force in motion.
Testing, one, two...
"Our whole point is for them to teach children the way they learn best," Dr. Price said. "And they learn best by getting their senses involved."
At the end of the semester, the college students construct manipulative skills tests - something the state administers to fourth-graders - and administer them to each grade level. The sessions help prepare Dr. Price's students for student teaching and sometimes inspire St. Ambrose teachers, as well.
"Teachers learn from one another, regardless of their experience," Mr. Leveskas said. "The teachers really like the program because their students are getting more individual attention, [and] the teachers see that the skills are being taught well."
St. Ambrose faculty members usually set the topics for the visitors, Mr. Leveskas said: "They're doing lab experiments that teachers often don't have the resources or time to do. Our students really have the opportunity for science to come alive. There's more hands-on learning and more materials. It's not just reading from a book."
Mr. Leveskas' pupils have the chance to work in groups and switch classrooms during the visits. "I just think our kids are so lucky that it's different for them," he said. "It's almost like they're playing, but they're learning at the same time."
Fifth-grader Devin Cushing agreed. He's had so much fun learning about battery terminals, magnetic levitation trains, mass, density and fractions that he hopes to take these topics to the next level during future units.
"I think that they absolutely care about how we're learning," Devin said of the CSR teachers. "They appreciate us. They're very nice, too."
Dr. Price returned the compliment.
"It gives my students a real taste of what has to happen, and it exposes their students to a different approach. I think it's a win-win," she said. "It's very enjoyable and rewarding - one of the best things that has ever happened to me."