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Annual 'clusters' put education majors in charge

March 20, 2015

For the past two weeks, Stephens junior Christina Hull and Danielle Carnes have used dinosaurs to teach preschoolers all sorts of things.

They practiced measuring by comparing the size of their feet to what dinosaurs might have walked on—and then lined the hallway of the Audrey Webb Learning Center with colorful dinosaur tracks.

They practiced both democracy and mathematics when they took a poll, allowing the preschoolers to vote on what they believe caused dinosaurs to be extinct. When they counted the votes (using Roman Numerals), they determined most in the class blame extinction on volcanic activity—so the juniors created an experiment to mimic a volcano.

The pink bubbles erupting over a cardboard mountain caused all sorts of giggles and screams. So Hull had to implement a clapping strategy to get the children focused again.

Learning the ins-and-outs of teaching, including the unanticipated distractions, is the goal of “clusters,” an annual project that allows juniors to take over classrooms. That means preparing and delivering lesson plans—but also knowing how to respond when, say, a little one starts crying because someone cut her off in line.

These are absolutely skills I’ll be able to use in the future in a classroom,” Hull said shortly after calming a tearful tot.

During clusters, juniors select a theme and incorporate lessons and activities around it.

Over in the elementary school, junior Izzy Marsh focused her studies on the concept of life, while junior Maile Wortham taught students about media and blogging.

Allison Mather—who is at Stephens this semester to get her teaching certificate—and senior Dawnavyn James implemented curriculum around Greek mythology.

“We put a mythology twist on everything,” Mather said.

To celebrate Pi day, they baked pies, studying both mathematics and chemistry. They also delved into the creative arts, studying gods and goddesses.

The curriculum culminated this afternoon with a play about Orpheus’s struggle to bring his wife, Eurydice, back from the underworld. And just as he did in ancient Greece, Orpheus succeeded only to do one thing forbidden him and lose her forever … or at least until his own demise.

The activities and lessons took a lot of collaboration, Mather said.

“It’s really important to collaborate with other teachers, bouncing ideas off one another, tweaking things and making them better,” she said.

Her main take-away?

“You have to keep things moving,” Mather said. “You have to be flexible and prepared.”

Taking over a class has shown Hull just how capable preschoolers are.

“Even though they’re very young, they’re still very capable of understanding how the world is,” she said. “Do not underestimate young children.”

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