Introduction to Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science >> Content Detail



Course Rationale and Overview

This course is designed as the first semester of a two course sequence that introduces MIT students to K-12 teaching and learning. This sequence may be followed by an additional three course sequence involving student teaching that leads to state licensure.

Many factors have shaped this course to date, primary among them have been:

  • Time in Student Schedules
    • Students do not major in education, but add these on as additional courses.

  • Learning Styles of MIT Students
    • Most MIT students have had math and science come to them easily, have learned well from lectures, and succeeded on multiple choice tests.
  • Battle Against Efficiency
    • Many students feel that lectures are the most efficient way to deliver information to students, and should therefore be the primary mode of teaching.

  • Lack of Breadth in Student Experience
    • Most MIT students have experienced limited teaching modalities, and have primarily had classes with other students who did well in science and math.

  • Waste of an MIT Degree
    • Students are influenced by their peers, parents and professors who often tell them that going to teach would be a waste of their degrees.

As a result these courses are designed to provide students with maximum exposure to different teaching and learning styles, and provide them with encouragement and support as they pursue their interests in teaching. The course emphasizes the benefits of a constructivist approach, and the merits of hands-on, project-based, collaborative work. All too many traditional education courses lecture to the students about the virtues of such hands-on constructivist approaches. Instead this course in turn takes a hands-on constructivist approach so that students may experience these methods while they learn about them. This approach sometimes confuses students who are not used to such methods. The second semester explicitly addresses these issues, and students consistently demonstrate understanding of this material in their own practice teaching.

Some of the activities in the curriculum require a bit of explanation as to why they are included.

  • Pulleys and Gears
    • These activities explicitly contrast paper and pencil mastery of concepts with hands-on mastery. Students often easily solve these problems on paper, and apply the correct equations. But when they are presented with a system to build, they often convey the deep misconceptions that they have about the physical reality of these equations. Conversations address how much instruction should be given and how much should be learned hands-on.

  • Fastplants
    • The Fastplants activities are embedded throughout the semester. The primary objective of this unit is to provide students with an opportunity to explore issues in experimental design and the scientific method. Students are often initially frustrated by not being told what experiments to do, but rather needing to find something that is interesting and investigating that topic. Conversations address how much freedom students should be given and how to teach a more accurate scientific methodology.

  • The Prisoner's Dilemma
    • This series of activities explores emerging educational technologies (that happened to be designed at MIT). While the use of information driven technologies like the World Wide Web have become ubiquitous in the classroom, other technologies have not. Simulations can be a very powerful classroom tool, providing students with the means to explore personally relevant topics and construct models of their own understanding. Conversations focus on the preparation and materials required to implement such technologies and how teachers can avail themselves of new technologies.

Most of the other projects have more overt connections to K-12 teaching, such as teaching mini-lessons, analyzing state exams, and conducting classroom observations. But the theme here is hands-on constructivist learning. Lecturing by the professor takes up only about 10% of class time, with the remainder occupied by class/group discussions, hands-on activities, and student-led exercises.


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