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Release: Feb. 5, 2001

UI education majors get field experience in area elementary schools

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Beginning this year, University of Iowa students studying to become elementary teachers will get almost a full semester of hands-on experience while helping out area primary schools.

Elementary education majors in the UI College of Education will spend two hours for four days a week interviewing, observing and assisting teachers in Hills, Penn, Weber and Wickham elementary schools. In previous years, education majors spent only a few weeks each semester as part of their "methods practicum" and had to wait for more in-depth field experience until their student-teaching assignment in their senior year.

Thirty-five UI students -- most of them juniors -- are taking part in the field experience this semester. Eventually, 280 or so students -- in other words, all elementary education majors -- will have a chance to put into practice some of the skills they're learning in their college courses. And many will get paired with teachers whose specialties -- such as social studies, science, math, language arts, reading, special education and early childhood education -- match their own areas of study.

"The schools have been extremely receptive," said Pamela Ries, an assistant clinical professor in the College of Education's Division of Curriculum and Instruction and director of the practicum experience. "The principals have been very supportive. They've released their teachers to be guest speakers, they've opened up their schools and allowed our students to observe, and they've allowed us to hold our seminars in the schools."

During the seminars, held each Friday, the students meet with UI faculty and practicum supervisors to discuss the week's experience, compare notes and begin compiling lesson plans, photos and video footage from the classrooms and other materials for a Web-based portfolio called an "electronic backpack."

Jolaine Emlet, a senior in elementary education who is working on specialties in special education and reading, has been assigned to Penn Elementary this semester. She says the practicum will go a long way toward preparing her for her student-teaching experience this fall.

"This practicum is going to be unique because I'll get a real chance to teach my own lessons," Emlet said. "With the other practicums, by the time you get in there and you get comfortable in the classroom, you really were done already. Since this is such an extended amount of time, I'll get comfortable with the kids, I'll get comfortable with the teachers teaching the class, and I'll get in there teaching the kids myself."

Mary Ellen Maske, principal at Wickham, said the benefits of the practicum are twofold. They give the UI students a chance to experience teaching close-up, and they give area teachers some assistance throughout the semester.

"As with anything, where we're preparing students for higher education or for any field, like medicine -- it's certainly beneficial to us in that field to help mentor them and prepare them for the field," Maske said. "Our teachers learn from the students as well.

"I'm very excited about the new practicum because it will provide so much more exposure to the students prior to their student-teaching," Maske added. "This will give a picture of what it's like to be in a classroom for a longer period of time so they can see what the life of an elementary classroom teacher is like."