Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

"I Do, We Do, You Do" - Professional Development for Aspiring Teachers

In recent years, IMSA has partnered with the Golden Apple Foundation and a number of Illinois universities to deliver professional development to college students who are preparing to become mathematics or science teachers.   Known as preservice educators, these men and women spend portions of their summers participating in IMSA programs to learn mathematics and science curriculum and to deliver instruction to young students enrolled in summer programs.

In this interview with IMSA Program Director for Statewide Educator Initiatives Dr. Susan Bisinger, we learn how preservice educators benefit from early exposure to curriculum and instructional practices.

IMSA Program Director for Statewide Educator Initiatives Dr. Susan Bisinger

IMSA 360: Why does IMSA Professional Field Services have different programs for preservice and current educators?

Bisinger: For pre-service teachers, a large portion of what they are learning is still theoretical. They haven't had as much of a chance to apply teaching concepts, ideas and techniques in an actual classroom situation. Programs designed for these educators offer them the opportunity to try out the things that they have learned. Current teachers, on the other hand, DO have experience in how students are likely to respond to various approaches and content. Experienced educators want and need programs that give them fresh ideas about the content they teach, new ways to approach different types of learners, and new techniques that may be novel or different from the way they've done things in the past. Sometimes current educators just need confirmation that what they're doing is a good and effective way to teach.

IMSA 360: The Golden Apple Summer Institutes and Teacher Candidate Institutes are for preservice teachers. What do these programs emphasize?

Bisinger: Both Teacher Candidate Institutes and the Golden Apple Summer Institutes give these preservice educators the opportunity to learn IMSA's instructional approach which is inquiry-based and problem-centered and often integrates multiple disciplines such as mathematics with literature, or history with science.  Preservice educators learn how the approach is used within a specific content or curricular area (i.e. a lesson), and they apply that approach with students while being observed and coached by experienced professionals.  Recently the National Staff Development Council spoke of the "I do, we do, you do" approach to professional growth: That's exactly what our preservice educator programs do.  In our programs, we show the teachers what the approach looks like by explaining it and modeling it for them (I do), let them try out the approach with their peers and debrief with them regarding how the lesson went (we do), and, finally, let them use the approach in a lesson with students (you do), again followed by a debriefing.

IMSA360: You talk about inquiry-based and problem-centered instruction. What does that look like?

Bisinger: I would say that the heart of inquiry-based instruction is questioning - not questions from the teacher to the student that have a right or wrong answer, but questions from the students to themselves - questions that are "wonderings." This kind of questioning leads students to try to find answers, to manipulate variables and to observe what happens. Problem-centered instruction focuses on the real world of the student. It provides a context in which students can investigate a phenomenon or a problem. When students are given the opportunity to ask their own questions, to try something out, to figure out how it works and why and what they can do about it, the learning goes much deeper. This is called a "constructivist" approach to teaching - in which the learners construct their own understanding of a concept rather than merely learning it by rote.

IMSA360: Can you give some specific examples of projects that the preservice  teachers will be doing with the students?

Bisinger: Preservice teachers who participate in the Teacher Candidate Institutes learn the content of one of our summer programs by doing all the activities as if they were students.  For example, they learn to apply the fundamentals of Newton’s Laws of Motion by creating paper frogs that jump. They gather and analyze data about the relationship between the mass of the frogs and the distance travelled. In another example, they explore their questions about climate change by measuring and analyzing layers of a simulated “Ice Core.” They develop hypotheses about the weather during various "periods" based on the kind of fossils they find in the layers of core.  Preservice teachers then use these activities with young students enrolled in IMSA’s summer programs while being coached by our talented and experienced staff.

IMSA360: What are your expectations for the preservice programs?

Bisinger: We want preservice educators to consider and apply inquiry-based strategies during student teaching or classroom situations.  We use Logic Models to help us design our programs and reach desired outcomes. That is, we document goals, rationales, assumptions, resources, activities, outputs and desired outcomes.  

We ask participants to conduct formal reflections about their experiences. Reflection is one of the ways teachers grow in their profession. By sharing their reflections, they tell us what they want to learn, practice or work on. They also tell us whether we've been successful, or if we need to make program modifications or changes.

Our plans include following our participants through their student teaching or early teaching years by asking them, their supervising teachers or mentors, and possibly their principals, which constructivist approaches they have used in their classrooms. We also plan to offer an online opportunity for them to stay connected with each other through the coming years.

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