Week #1: Introduction

Course Overview and Rationale

Many factors have shaped this course to date, primary among them have been:

  • Time in Student Schedules: Students do not major in education, but add these on as additional courses.
  • Learning Styles of MIT Students: Most MIT students have had math and science come to them easily, have learned well from lectures, and succeeded on multiple choice tests.
  • Battle Against Efficiency: Many students feel that lectures are the most efficient way to deliver information to students, and should therefore be the primary mode of teaching.
  • Lack of Breadth in Student Experience: Most MIT students have experienced limited teaching modalities, and have primarily had classes with other students who did well in science and math.
  • Waste of an MIT Degree: Students are influenced by their peers, parents and professors who often tell them that going to teach would be a waste of their degrees. As a result, these courses are designed to provide students with maximum exposure to different teaching and learning styles, and provide them with encouragement and support as they pursue their interests in teaching. The course emphasizes the benefits of a constructivist approach, and the merits of hands-on, project-based, collaborative work. All too many traditional education courses lecture to the students about the virtues of such hands-on constructivist approaches. Instead this course, in turn, takes a hands-on constructivist approach so that students may experience these methods while they learn about them. This approach sometimes confuses students who are not used to such methods. The second semester explicitly addresses these issues, and students consistently demonstrate understanding of this material in their own practice teaching. 

Curriculum Activities

Some of the activities in the curriculum require a bit of explanation as to why they are included.

  • Straw Towers: This activity, which comes towards the beginning of the course is designed to not only simulate easy-to-implement hands-on science activities, but to promote discussion about learning styles and group work. The activity is conducted with part of the class working collectively and the other part working alone.
  • Pulleys and Gears: These activities explicitly contrast paper and pencil mastery of concepts with hands-on mastery. Students often easily solve these problems on paper, and apply the correct equations. But when they are presented with a system to build, they often convey the deep misconceptions that they have about the physical reality of these equations. Conversations address how much instruction should be given and how much should be learned hands-on.
  • Computer Simulations: This series of activities explores emerging educational technologies (that happened to be designed at MIT). While the use of information driven technologies like the World Wide Web have become ubiquitous in the classroom, other technologies have not. Simulations can be a very powerful classroom tool, providing students with the means to explore personally relevant topics and construct models of their own understanding. Conversations focus on the preparation and materials required to implement such technologies and how teachers can avail themselves of new technologies.

Other Activities

  • Observations
  • Moodle site (assignments, blogs, portfolios)
  • Metaphors for Teaching and Learning + Teach Someone

Course Texts

[Learn] = Buy at Amazon Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. The National Academies Press, 2000. ISBN: 9780309070362.

[Schooling] = Buy at Amazon Graham, Patricia Albjerg. Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation's Changing Needs. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780195315844. [Preview with Google Books]

[Tinkering] = Buy at Amazon Tyack, David, and Larry Cuban. Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780674892835.