A Note From the Teacher Preparation Section Editor
We know that teachers teach the way they were taught. Therefore one of the most effective ways to impact how future teachers actually teach is to change the way we teach our undergraduate courses. If we, the physics faculty, want student-centered teachers who believe that teaching is an interaction, not just the transfer of information, then we need to become more student-centered ourselves. Of course, one way to do this is to incorporate more active-learning group work activities into the classroom. Unfortunately, group work requires more supervision. Groups require feedback and sometimes they need to be nudged at the right time with the right question to keep on track. The problem is that more supervision requires more time and manpower to implement; one person can only interact with so many groups at a time. However, what if I told you that there was a magic pill that could help solve this problem and potentially recruit more K-12 science teachers at the same time? That would be amazing. And amazing as it sounds, the pill exists, only it is not really a pill, it is a learning assistant program.
Learning Assistants, or LAs, are undergraduates who help teach undergraduate courses. They are like a Teaching Assistant, but probably more like a teacher's aide, since they are in the classroom with the instructor. The details of Learning Assistant roles vary by institution, but the main idea is that Learning Assistants help instructors facilitate interactions amongst their students. To a certain degree, this helps solve the manpower problem that comes along with group work. But in addition, institutions have found that Learning Assistant Programs have increased the number of physics majors pursuing teaching careers. At first glance that may seem surprising. However, if you stop and think about it, undergraduates have a very one-sided view of teaching. Giving undergraduates a chance to play the role of teacher in a more active style of learning gives them the opportunity to see how rewarding and challenging teaching can be. This, of course, is the real draw of teaching, so it isn't really surprising that this experience is a recruiter for future teachers.
The upshot of this introduction is that a Learning Assistant Program can be a valuable recruiter for future K-12 teachers. That is what this section of the newsletter is all about. In this issue you will read about the Learning Assistant programs at the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, and Seattle Pacific University.
Chance Hoellwarth is an Associate Professor of Physics at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).