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A Learning Collaboration

May 11, 2012 — 

Originally published in the Winnipeg School Division, Our Schools newspaper, April 2012.

Republished with permission from Winnipeg School Division, Copyright 2012.

Brock Corydon School has formed a positive learning connection with the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba that is testing the latest in Early Years research in the classroom.

This is the second school year that Assistant Professor Richard Hechter has brought his Early Years student teacher candidates to work with Brock Corydon students in small groups.

Teacher candidates are researching areas where Early Years students are noted to have difficulty in math and science, and then building lessons and activities to address any those needs.

“My focus as a professor is to have my students realize that we already have the resources—and that is the literature that’s out there,” Dr.Hechter said. “People are researching this all the time. My students are figuring out where the challenges are and using what they’ve done in their teacher education program to build lessons and design great activities that we can share with these Brock Corydon students.”

Dr. Hechter said Brock Corydon was a good fit for the collaboration.“My daughter comes here and I have a nice relationship with the teachers. We said ‘why don’t wework together?’”

The learning project proved sopopular in its first year that it was expanded to Grade 3 and 4 classes this year.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,to have students working in small groups,” Dr. Hechter said. “During practicum, our students go to schools and have a full class of 30 kids. But inthis experience, they only have three or four students. It provides an opportunity to learn very systematically.”

When the U of M students visited the school in October, they focused on science concepts, while a Feb. 16 visit focused on mathematics and problem areas such as fractions and measurements. Teacher candidates tackled these challenges through hands-on activities, technology, stories and other methods.

Teacher candidate Toni Rae Brown conducted an activity with students that worked on pattern recognition.“What the research says the difficulty is in that case for students is often explaining a pattern rule or describing their pattern,” she said.

To help her students identify and label patterns, Ms. Brown had themphotographing patterns found in theirschool and playground, such as“snow-pavement-snow.” The teacher candidate also used other pattern indicators, such as musical instruments, to adapt to students’ individual learning styles. While one student might benefit more from visual data, auditory data might be a better way to reach another student.

“You have to differentiate the learning,” Ms. Brown said. “And you don’t want to make the mistake of giving students more of the same with each activity; it has to be the same area, but a higher level of difficulty to keep them engaged.”

Brock Corydon principal Ira Udow said the learning collaboration has yielded benefits to all involved.“This experience has tremendous value to all participants. For the university students who have the opportunity to work with actual students and be exposed to the various skill levels, personalities and learning styles that will help them in their future practice. For our students who had the opportunity to participate with students from other classrooms in hands on math activities relevant tothe curriculum. For the teachers, this was a great professional development opportunity to be exposed to a variety of creative math activities that they can integrate into their classroom programs. They also had the opportunity to place students in specific groups and math activities to meet the students’specific educational needs.”

U of M student Kevin Denchuk said he appreciated working with the smaller groups.

“You get to have more conversations and a lot more one-to-one connections. It definitely helps to reach deeper into students’ understanding,” he said. “You look at the research and come in with some expectations as to where the problem spots may lie. Some kids are beyond those struggles, or they could need remedial work…or they could already have strategies that researchers haven’t considered.”

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