The Voice: Winter 2002

The Voice

Secondary math students get an extra run at student teaching

Math majors get a feel for what teaching is all about already in their junior year. Each year's class schedule shows Mathematics 110_College Algebra, and Mathematics 357_Methods of Teaching Secondary Mathematics, meeting at the same time, in the same place, and with the same instructor. It's no mistake by the registrar's office, though. “It's been happening forever,” says Professor Dennis De Jong, who is the instructor listed for both courses. The classes meet together and the secondary mathematics students teach most of the algebra course.

“Its a great opportunity for students to begin teaching without having to worry about discipline,” says De Jong. And the course is a perfect one for them to teach since it is essentially a higher level high school course.

Although De Jong says the course has been set up this way since before he came to Dordt in 1985, he's heard that it originally began as a solution to a difficult situation. A math professor became sick and needed someone to cover his courses. The student-taught class began as a temporary measure, but the department was so pleased with the results that it has become a strength of the program, today's faculty believe.

De Jong typically has three to five students in the methods class and twenty-five in algebra. He teaches for the first quarter of the semester, after which the secondary students are responsible for teaching assigned chapters of the book. They also make up tests and grade assignments. But they are not on their own_De Jong is always in the classroom, and he looks over each lesson plan and every test before it is given. He makes sure the Methods students emphasize the right elements and present each lesson correctly. He also is available for questions that arise as the students are preparing or after their class sessions are over.

On days when they are not teaching, the Math 357 students sit in on the class, meeting together afterward to discuss what worked and what didn't and to brainstorm ways to help each other improve. De Jong may encourage the teacher of the day to try another technique or commend them for the approach they took.

“It's a lot of fun,” says De Jong. “I sometimes feel I shouldn't even get paid for doing this.”

Students say they enjoy the class as well.

“Math 357 was a great experience for me,” says senior Lynn Temple from Fulton, Illinois. “It made me excited about teaching math. Ever since I have been at Dordt, I have wavered about my decision to be a math ed major and have switched my major twice. After teaching Math 357, I knew that I had made the right decision to teach high school math.”

“Teaching College Algebra was one of the closest ways I could get to the real thing,” says Jodi Blaukamp, a senior from Holland, Michigan. “Although it was a lot of work since we taught seven or eight class periods, we were able to see the whole picture, not only writing daily lesson plans, a test, and grading assignments, but also keeping students motivated and making them see math as fun and useful. Plus, since students taking the class were depending on a grade, we worked hard to do our best teaching.”

In addition to the regular debriefing sessions, De Jong meets weekly with the teaching assistants to discuss other issues in secondary teaching. He also has them do some textbook reviews to prepare them for some of the day-to-day extra tasks all teachers must do.

Sharon Hovestadt from Brantford, Ontario, says she enjoyed working with other students, getting ideas from them for creating a better classroom environment. “Even in teaching a topic I knew well, I learned so much more, because I had to know why things are done the way we do them. I wish we had to take the course twice.”

According to De Jong, the algebra students also do well. “The 357 students have done so well that we've had no complaints,” he says, adding, “They usually connect very well with the students. We've been blessed with good (mathematics education) students. If they aren't, they usually don't make it that far in the program.”

De Jong says he looks at the course as a teaching lab, and he is very positive about its benefits. “This course doesn't just represent a grade for secondary ed students,” he says. “It is a responsibility for twenty-five people and what they are learning.”

“I would honestly say that Math 357 was the most beneficial class that I took at Dordt,” says Carrie Ten Napel from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Because of it, I now feel a lot more confident to enter a classroom.”