2016 News

Preparing Elementary School Teachers through Community Based Learning

Students in the USF College of Education Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Junior Achievement BizTown
Students enrolled in the USF College of Education's Elementary Education Master of Arts in Teaching program discovered the importance of teaching students outside of the classroom during two of their courses.

(Tampa, Fla.) – Students in the University of South Florida's (USF) Elementary Education Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program explored the Tampa Bay community and learned how these locations could be applied to their classroom curriculum as part of a unique integration of two of their summer term courses.

For the second summer in a row, College of Education faculty Drs. Michael Berson and Katie Tricarico implemented a place-based focus in their courses, "Instructional Planning for Diverse Learners," and "Trends in K-6 Social Science Education." This model took students out of the classroom and into the community, bringing students to various locations in Tampa Bay to extend their studies.

Throughout the six-week summer course, preservice teachers and faculty explored the newly opened Robert W. Saunders Public Library, Junior Achievement BizTown, the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the Tampa Bay History Center. At each community site, students discovered the curricular offerings available to them as future teachers while learning about the ways that Tampa's history and location influence their experiences as citizens.

"The community-based learning experience enhanced my preparation as a future elementary teacher by allowing me to experience the different places in which I could bring my students to further their learning in a fun, meaningful way," said Mark Murphy, a student in the Elementary MAT program. "It also showed me ways in which I could integrate my lesson plans in accordance to the subjects I am teaching."

Students in the USF College of Education Master of Arts in Teaching Program at the Robert W. Saunders Public Library
Students in the Elementary Education Master of Arts in Teaching Program learn about the resources available to them at the Robert W. Saunders Public Library.

In part, students examined:

The Robert W. Saunders Public Library

Students learned about genealogy resources and exhibits related to Tampa's own struggles and victories during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the plethora of resources available through the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative. Students discovered that the neighborhood in which a school is located directly impacts the experiences of students who attend that school. 

Junior Achievement BizTown

Students learned about the Junior Achievement economics curriculum and the capability of fifth graders to be self-directed in their studies. They also examined how the most effective field trips include teaching field trip-specific content in the classroom for an extended period of time, prior to boarding the school bus. 

The Florida Holocaust Museum

Students explored how to incorporate the Florida state mandate requiring students learn about the Holocaust, specifically in an elementary classroom, while simultaneously examining their own assumptions about modern-day civil rights and social justice issues. 

The Tampa Bay History Center

Students discovered the varied aspects of life in Tampa Bay, and how life in the City of Tampa has changed over time. Students were also shown various ways that they can use photography to help elementary school students uncover these ideas through facilitated instruction and active engagement. 

In addition to place-based learning opportunities, students enrolled in these classes experienced a co-teach model, where both instructors were facilitating lessons in the classroom. Several assignments were designed to promote integration across courses, with the work submitted for "Instructional Planning for Diverse Learners" building upon that submitted for "Trends in K-6 Social Science Education."

Students in the program said this collaborative approach benefited their learning and enhanced their preparation as elementary educators.

"The place-based learning experiences our cohort had this summer gave me countless instructional ideas and resources that will help me make my teaching relevant to students' experiences in their own community of Tampa," said student Caitlyn Reid.

Student Brian Waksman felt that visiting locations such as Junior Achievement's BizTown and the various other educational locations was beneficial for students because it provided practical places that they could take their students to enhance their learning.

"From my understanding, being a teacher is all about knowing what to do to best teach your group of students, and these locations helped to add to our bag of tricks," Waksman said. "A teacher needs to be able to expand their students' minds, and these locations all help to show what is in the area."

Exploring the community resources available to teachers left these future educators prepared to make their lesson plans and curriculum more interactive for students, and in turn making their learning experiences more memorable.

"The community-based learning experiences showed me the possibilities of how to help my students connect with the world around them on a more personal level," said Kathi Reinecke, Elementary MAT Student. "Seeing, hearing, and touching makes learning come alive, more than reading a textbook or watching a movie."

The clinically centered and community engaged Elementary Education MAT program is designed for students who hold a bachelor's degree in another field and wish to become certified elementary (grades K-6) teachers. It is a four-semester program that includes research-informed coursework focusing on elementary classroom methods and subject-area content, as well as two semester-long field experiences.

To learn more about the Elementary Education MAT program, please contact Program Coordinator Dr. Katie Tricarico or Dr. Michael Berson.

About the USF College of Education:

The University of South Florida College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 20 for online graduate programs. The USF College of Education has over 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.