Dordt College News

Future teachers post their class units online for others to use

January 11, 2009

Education Professor Dennis Vander Plaats believes that middle school teaching needs to engage students in “meaningful learning.”

That is exactly what he tries to implement in his Education 266—Middle School Curriculum and Instruction class, a course that gives its students a foretaste of the middle school world via simulation.

Students are placed in teaching groups within a fictitious school dubbed Cornland Christian Middle School. “At the beginning of the semester, students apply for teaching positions, and I work as administrator,” said Vander Plaats.

Dr. Dennis Vander Plaats believes that the best learning happens when students are using what they learn. He puts that into practice as administrator of his In an average day of class, Vander Plaats incorporates the FLIP teaching system. “Flip teaching refers to flipping the traditional in and out of class expectations,” said Vander Plaats. “Instead of lecturing in class and doing assignments out of class, we flip the two and do lecturing out of class and assignments in class.” Vander Plaats posts his lectures online for the students to read and digest. When they come to class, they draw on what they’ve learned to develop curriculum.

This year, the course’s nine students have been split into two teaching teams. Those focusing on the eighth grade are creating a thematic unit on cars, while the seventh grade group is creating a thematic unit on the Great Depression.

Alison Kok, a senior, has been working with the seventh-grade team on the Great Depression unit. She has found creating a thematic unit to be “challenging” but also says that it has been well worth the effort. “I have learned a lot about writing curriculum so that the goals relate to the student as a whole, for students to grow not only cognitively in school, but socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually,” she said.

Senior Ben Dirksen believes he and his classmates will reap the benefits of the class in their future teaching. “The class brings great insight to topics that need to be dealt with on a daily basis in the middle school setting,” he said.

Students work on more than simply constructing a thematic unit, however. “They develop learning centers and assessment procedures along with their thematic unit,” Vander Plaats said.

As the semester comes to a close, students will present the thematic units to each other during the week prior to exams.

Vander Plaats agrees that the work his students are doing now will be useful as they begin teaching. “I am humbled by the quality of work these students do in developing curriculum,” said Vander Plaats. “They fully engage themselves in work that is useful not only to themselves but to teachers in the field.”

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from thematic units, however. Thanks to Vander Plaats’ class website, teachers from around the country have used the thematic units. Dordt graduate Elizabeth Hickox (’06) has used the thematic units in her classroom in Boynton Beach, Florida.

“I have used these resources many times in my last few years [of teaching],” said Hickox. In addition, faculty members in her middle school have used some of the ideas to do a school-wide integrated unit.

Kok said that the course has helped confirm her desire to teach middle school students and “has also helped me understand how it is my duty as a teacher to guide and care for each student as a whole, not just academically.”

“I would highly recommend this course to others,” said Dirksen. “It is definitely one of the best education courses I have taken. It is insightful and very applicable.”


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