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Science and Math Practicum at the WW Academy

Teacher candidates at the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning bring with them a wealth of different experiences, from industry experience as engineers or chemists to advanced studies in mathematics or biology. These candidates choose the WW Academy as the place to develop their skills as teachers, learning to bring the big ideas in their disciplines alive for their future students.

Even as they’re learning the skills and knowledge to be an excellent educator through the Academy’s specially-designed challenge-based curriculum, they also practice and sharpen their science and math. Each week the WW Academy’s Faculty Mentors bring together teacher candidates in different seminars—one in math and one in science—for joint problem solving and learning.

“I have good ideas about what science teaching entails, but the way those are demonstrated and developed vary considerably among the teacher candidates based on their understanding, experiences, and interests,” says Andrew Wild, Faculty Mentor in science.  The weekly practicum seminar, Dr. Wild explains, allows more opportunities for flexibility and personalization. “I’m really excited about being able to address those direct questions that emerge [in science] and support their growth in a way that’s responsive to whatever they need in the moment.”

The seminar intentionally puts teacher candidates in the role of both learner and teacher.

“We’ve set up a responsive practicum design where [teacher candidates] bring some problem or puzzle every week,” says Julianna Stockton, Faculty Mentor in mathematics. Dr. Stockton likes the possibilities the seminar presents to teacher candidates as they’re working through their challenges and encountering things in their clinical placements, “whether you’re there just to look over some student work and understand student thinking, to try to understand a big idea [in math], to come up with ideas for how to teach something, or to conduct an experiment or try out something that you or your learning design coach designed.”

Apart from tackling specific challenges and teaching ideas for their content area, teacher candidates are also reminded what it is like to be the learner during these sessions as Faculty Mentors and peers bring new lessons to teach to the group. This, according to Dr. Stockton, helps teacher candidates develop empathy for their students—a reminder of what it feels like to struggle with something that you don’t know yet.

The practicum also serves as a great vehicle for refreshing STEM content for the candidates. “It’s like re-reading a book or re-watching a movie or TV show that you’ve seen before—when you review it, you pick up on the foreshadowing because now you know what is coming,” says Dr. Stockton.

“I love being able to dig into difficult or complicated ideas and content with my peers and faculty,” says teacher candidate and Design Fellow Jason Heitler-Klevans. “I feel that I’m gaining a richer understanding not only of chemistry and physics, but also of what it means to teach effectively and with compassion and understanding for my students. Every day I learn something new from my peers, and I’m always excited to bring challenges I am facing to discuss with them.”

By creating this learning space for teacher candidates, the WW Academy is encouraging candidates to think both large and small when it comes to teaching STEM subjects. It also provides opportunities for teacher candidates to use what they’ve developed through the challenges and design-thinking practices.

“I’ve been really pleased with the topics that have been brought to the group,” says Dr. Wild. “They’ve advanced each other’s thinking around the science, not only the science teaching aspects.”

“It’s a nice intersection point when candidates’ clinical work, challenge work, and content background all come together with faculty and peers,” says Dr. Stockton. “It’s this beautiful brain trust all helping each other out.”

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