Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Math Education

The best part about the classes I have taken at BYU for education has been when I have seen my students using the strategies that I was taught in my classes. For example, when I took MTHED 305 and 306 there were days I thought, “Oh please, students aren’t going to ask why something works and they aren’t going to need to think about how they solve math problems.” Obviously, I wasn’t aware of what lay ahead in the classroom.

Now, after starting the internship, and being a teacher who actually works with children and teaches math as part of the curriculum, I realize that students really do wonder why something works and most of them use various strategies to solve a problem. Several days ago while teaching addition I was surprised as I walked around my classroom and looked over my students shoulders and saw that many students weren’t using the algorithm (column addition) way to solve a question such as 34 + 45. Some strategies I did see them use were the strategies my MTHED professors had emphasized in their class, and that as teachers, they said we should embrace. These strategies include: breaking apart numbers into smaller numbers or into their place’s value (ex: 34 + 45 = 30 + 40 + 4 + 5), compensating one number to make it easier to add or subtract, and counting on from 10’s.

I was also pleasantly surprised that students actually talked about their thinking.  Not only were my professors right that students are going to use different strategies, but that these students, these children, are also expected to talk about their thinking.  As their teacher, I must embrace this new pedagogy. Gone are the days of the past when students are expected to show their understanding through a worksheet, without questioning why an algorithm works; now they can learn various strategies and question which strategy will work best for them as they solve these mathematical problems.

Looking back, I realized that what I was being taught in class for four hours every week actually occurs in classrooms everyday. Has there been a class you have taken in your college career that you felt related to the real world context?


Posted in Secondary Education Preparation

Praxis Exam

One of the things that stand out the most about my high school teachers was their endless knowledge of the subjects they taught. I remember thinking that my teachers were experts on algebra, biology, government, and history. This is a bit disheartening to think about, because I look at my own knowledge of the social sciences, and realize that I am no expert. How much of the subject matter should a good teacher know?

In 2002, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act. This act specifies that all teachers must be “highly qualified” in both content knowledge and teaching skills. In order to help identify teachers as highly qualified, several assessments have been developed to test teacher-candidates’ knowledge. The McKay School uses the Praxis exam as their assessment.

The Praxis is a national test that divided up into three parts. The first part of the exam, known as Praxis I, is comparable to a typical standardized test with a reading, mathematics, and writing portion. Some universities use the Praxis I as an entry requirement for all prospective teaching majors. My major, teaching social sciences, did not require me to take this exam prior to applying for the major, but I cannot say the same about all secondary education majors. You will need to check with your advisement center to see if you need to take the Praxis I.

The second Praxis exam, known as Praxis II, is the test that all secondary education major must take if they hope to graduate with their teaching degree and credentials. This exam assesses teachers’ content knowledge, and there are different tests for different subjects. Each teacher candidate should be familiar with which test is required for the subject they plan on teaching. The McKay school links all teaching majors and required Praxis II exams in a list that is posted online.

Since the Praxis II tests subject matter, it is important to know that almost anything from your content area could find its way on the test. This makes studying a daunting task, especially for those who finished their content classes many semesters previous. While there are different ways to study for the exam, I found that going through my old classroom notes and textbooks helped me refresh my memory of some of the basic principles that I could be tested on. Others have read books like World History for Dummies, or The Idiot’s Guide to Geography. Books like these are written to cover a broad array of ideas that within any subject.

Students must register for the Praxis II online, and they must pass the exam prior to their student teaching or internship. Since there are specific days that the test is offered, and fees associated with the assessment, it would be wise to start thinking about the exam early. More information can be found on the McKay School’s  Praxis II Webpage on the Praxis II as well as the offical Praxis site.

The last exam, the Praxis III, is an exam that teachers must take after their first few years of teaching. The test measures teachers’ ability to teach content area, assess students, teach new concepts. Since the test is taken by teachers, and not university students, it is best to spend your time preparing for the Praxis II now while keeping the Praxis III in mind for the future.

I would like to hear from any teaching majors who have had experience taking the Praxis II.  What was your experience like, and how did you study for the exam?


Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Some of my Favorite ElEd Professors

When I think of the experiences I’ve had at BYU in the Elementary Education program, I always smile and think of my best professors who made the major so worthwhile and interesting. It was because of these professors that I made the goal to become a kind, engaging, loving teacher. The three professors I am going to mention all had qualities that the master teacher possesses: love for their students, love of their subject matter, and a personal relationship with each student.

Dr. Jacobs:
While I was in New Zealand, studying and teaching abroad, I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. James Jacobs for my assessment and planning class. He was the reason why I held onto the three qualities of a master teacher that I mentioned above. In fact, he was the one to teach them to me. Though I cannot remember all the details about assessment (purposeful data taken about students to inform teaching practices), what I remember most from his class was that he cared about me. I knew this by the assignments he gave. One of the first assignments he gave his students was to read a talk by a former BYU professor, Gregory Clark, entitled, “Some Lessons on Faith and Fear.” This article showed me that life is not meant to be lived in fear, since fear works against faith–faith in the future, in changing for the better, and making the daily decision to live with faith and to be excited about the life ahead. This article was the theme of our whole trip in New Zealand, and it worked in all facets of my life there, whether I was jumping off a 43 meter (about 140 feet!) bridge, facing 23 sweet smiling faces as they were ready to learn from me, or conquering my fear of living in a new culture. Even today his lesson on choosing faith over fear stays with me and inspires me to live a fuller, more faith-filled life. Dr. Jacobs taught us about assessment, it is true, but he loved each of his students, loved teaching itself, and got to know me as a person. Today when I see him on campus, we both grin ear to ear, and we want to know how each other are. That to me is a fabulous master teacher.

Dr. Wimmer:
Another influential ELED teacher in my life I have already mentioned in one of my posts titled Running Records Literacy Class, is worth mentioning again. Similar to Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Jenni Wimmer loved her subject matter (teaching literacy in grades K-3), she loved her students, and she had a personal relationship with each of them. Everyday I was excited to attend her class because I knew that I would learn something more about teaching correct reading and writing practices that would encourage my students.

I also loved hearing about Dr. Wimmer’s life and telling her about mine. I knew that deep down she was interested in what I wanted to teach, how my application for New Zealand was going (I took her class the semester before I left for New Zealand), and what I was going to do on the weekend. My favorite memories of her are on Wednesdays, the last time we saw each other for the week, when she flashed her beautiful smile and told us to enjoy the weekend and make it fabulous. I loved when she said that word, “fabulous,” especially about children when succeeded. Her optimism and love for me inspired me to show the same love and care for my students and to also love my subject matter. I never met another teacher so excited about literacy, and it made me so excited to teach it as well. Enthusiasm is contagious. Though it has been a year since I took her class, I can still email her and ask her advice about teaching literacy and she replies and wants to know how teaching is going and what I am doing now. I’ll always be glad I took ELED 333: Literacy in the Primary Grades, from her and came to know her love for students and her subject.

Dr. MacIntyre:
Finally, I will never forget my professor for Health 361: Health in the Elementary Classroom, Dr. Emily MacIntyre. Dr. Emily MacIntyre was similar to Dr. Wimmer and Dr. Jacobs–evidenced by demonstrating the three qualities of a master teacher. On the first day of class she told us her goal was to know all of 85 of our names before the end of the short 7-weeks we would spend together; and to my amazement, she met it. Instead of just standing up front and lecturing and never getting to know any of us, Dr. MacIntyre went above and beyond to learn about who each of us were as people. It didn’t matter if our ideas were simple or in contrast to hers, she still listened attentively and used our ideas in her curriculum.  I’ll never forget her personal relationship with me. One day she overheard me sharing some exciting news with a close friend and she told me how happy she was for me. This teacher showed me that even with limited amount of time, lives can still be touched, and love can be shown.

I am sure that the message you are getting from this blog post is that the best teachers–the master teachers–from the ELED program are those who exhibit three important qualities: they loved their students, they loved their subject matter, and they had a personal relationship with their students. Their examples are a guide for me now that I am teaching. Forever, they will be my favorite ELED professors.

Now I’d like to ask you, my audience, who are some of your favorite major professors? How have they inspired you?

Posted in Secondary Education Preparation

How to Teach the Social Sciences

Occasionally, when I tell people that I plan on teaching history or government, they admit to me that they hated those two subjects in school. Upon further questioning, I discover that these people dislike the subject not because of some innate enmity toward George Washington or John Locke, but rather because they had a bad experience with a high school or college teacher. These teachers made social science an excruciatingly boring topic as they gave monotone lectures and ruthless exams.

Can poor teaching really make a good subject go bad? Ask any student at BYU that question, and I am certain you will get an answer in the affirmative! How, then, do you teach social studies so that they are enjoyable? I’ve dedicated this post to a few of my most memorable lessons from my high school government and history classes in hopes to give those in my same major some ideas for future classroom lessons.

Mr. Spears was my government teacher during my final year of high school. Other than the fact that Democrats and Republicans are political rivals, I didn’t know much about United States Government. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one in my class who had a lack of political understanding. Most students in my class had blank looks whenever Mr. Spears tried to get us to discuss the latest legislation in Washington.

In order to help us develop our own political opinions and to get us to simply enjoy U.S. Government more, Mr. Spears decided to hold a class debate. The class was divided into groups of six, and each group received a controversial government topic. One group got the topic of abortion, another was assigned the draft, and so forth.  Each group of six was then divided into two teams—one in favor of the topic, and the other against. We were given the charge to research our topic and create an argument to support our position.

I remember well my Catholic friends who were assigned the topic of abortion. At first, they were upset when they were assigned to argue for the issue. There was some strong protest from these students, but Mr. Spears explained that the best debaters had a view of both sides of an issue. He promised these students that if they developed a strong case for a topic they disagreed with, they would better know how to refute it in a real debate. To our surprise, on the day of the debate, when these students won, they admitted that they had indeed learned how to better defend their true position as pro-life supporters since they had mastered pro-choice rhetoric.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this debate was the importance of becoming an informed citizen. Mr. Spears opened the world of government to our class simply by bringing the subject matter into a world that we already understood. We contextualized the material so that we could form our own ideas and beliefs, and that is what made me love U.S. Government.

It was during my junior year of high school that I discovered my fascination with U.S. History. Mrs. Gould, my teacher, helped facilitate my love for the subject. Of all the awards she had been awarded during her teaching profession, the one she cherished most dubbed her “the weirdest teacher ever.” Indeed, weird was a good word for her, but it was her unique style of teaching that made history come alive.

During lessons on pioneer migration to the west, Mrs. Gould dressed up like a cowboy and spoke in a western accent. When we learned about political machines and the gilded age, she threatened that she would call her brute squad to ruff us all up if we didn’t vote Republican in the next election. Our discussions on the age of exploration were even more interesting. She dressed up like a Spanish Conquistador, ran around the room with a flag bearing her name, and randomly yelled, “I claim this land in the name of Gould!”

It was the unusual things that Mrs. Gould did that I remember the most. Attached to these strange memories are bits of knowledge that I gleaned from the lesson. It would be accurate to say that Mrs. Gould’s way of presenting the information created ‘enduring understandings.’ These are historical facts that I have remembered long after leaving high school, and I believe I will always remember these fact.

I recognize that every subject matter has interesting ways of teaching its curriculum. I would love to hear from any education major. What are some of the ways to teach your subject curriculum so that students remember the lessons years down the road?