Teachers doing a lesson on the lunar cycleBarbara Billington, left, and host teacher Amy Wittmann co-teach in a science classroom at Linwood school. In a lesson about the moon, students modeled the lunar cycle using signs, balls, and their own bodies to model the moon’s phases.

Energy exchange

Two teacher educators take time out to co-teach in elementary classrooms

A class of eager third-graders are barely keeping themselves in their seats.

“Gibbous!” “Crescent!” “First quarter!” they call out as their hands shoot into the air.

In this elementary science classroom, today’s lesson is all about the moon. Some students stand and model the lunar cycle, using labeled signs, a bright yellow exercise ball, and their own bodies to represent the moon’s different phases.

At the front of the room, not one but two teachers facilitate the activity and ask questions. Amy Wittmann, a science specialist at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus in Saint Paul, and Barbara Billington, a science education specialist from the U, are co-teaching together this year.

They aren’t the only ones. U math educator Terry Wyberg wheels his bike up to Matt Linman’s second-floor classroom at Barton Open School in Minneapolis one morning before class. Soon, Wyberg and Linman greet their room full of fifth- and sixth-graders, and together they introduce the day’s math focus: measuring and graphing how gear size affects a biker’s speed.

These partnerships are part of a special year-long collaboration. CEHD’s Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) connected Billington and Wyberg with partner schools to meet several needs—first, to provide professional development opportunities for teachers in those schools; second, to expand Billington and Wyberg’s experience in elementary education and their specialty areas; and third, to enhance the quality of education for K–6 students and teacher candidates across grade-school to university settings.

Barton host teacher Matt Linman, top left, and Terry Wyberg co-teach a math lesson on measuring and graphing how gear size affects a biker’s speed.

Shared spaces for learning

The partnerships began as a way to honor a request for professional development for two highly valued lecturers. Billington and Wyberg are instructional staff in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction who work in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Center. With expertise in science and mathematics, respectively, both had taught at the secondary level but not in elementary school settings.

To enable them to teach elementary education methods courses and remain in compliance with Minnesota Board of Teaching instructor requirements, associate dean Deborah Dillon awarded them professional development leaves to work as elementary teachers in public schools for the 2014–15 school year.

In a strategic move, Billington and Wyberg were asked to take special roles in TERI partnership schools, linking their work with the redesign of teacher education underway in CEHD.

“In the past, many different types of liaisons have engaged in schools to support areas such as induction, partnership, research, professional development, and retention,” says Dillon. “Embedding faculty as co-teachers was yet another iteration of a mutually beneficial hybrid role. The faculty liaison roles of doctors Billington and Wyberg were new to our TERI Partner Network.”

Office of Teacher Education (OTE) director Stacy Ernst was instrumental in arranging the placements.

“Opportunities for University faculty liaisons to co-teach in partner schools is as important to us as having school professionals engaged as instructors in our programs,” says Ernst. “In these ways we’re able to remain in shared spaces to learn, advocate, and support the initiatives at the school site—and also to translate and link those initiatives for P–12 students to the cutting edge research of our faculty and to the methods expertise that our instructors bring to the table.”

Wyberg, who has been preparing the next generation of math educators for 24 years, hoped to put the methods he teaches and reads about to the test in a classroom with an experienced elementary educator.

Billington, in her seventh year teaching science education courses, was interested in the different classroom dynamics between high school, where she started her teaching career, and elementary school.

“Learning how to work with a classroom full of elementary kids was one thing that I was really looking forward to,” says Billington. “Their enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. They have so many questions.”

Connecting the spheres

Billington and Wyberg committed to spend half of every school day for the year working in their respective elementary classrooms. Afternoons and evenings were spent back on campus teaching graduate-level classes.

Teaching elementary and graduate students at the same time has helped them make important connections between the two spheres, they agree.

“Being able to step away from the theoretical side of teaching methods and working at Linwood every day has been a really good reminder of things I learned and put in play as a high school teacher,” says Billington, “but it also gives me a richer experience because I’m working with younger kids in a different setting.”

Left to right, Matt Linman, Wyberg, and Lindsey West

And for Wyberg, the connection between the University and elementary setting goes even further. One of his co-teachers, Lindsey West, is one of his former methods students. Working with West has allowed Wyberg to present ideas and put them into play with an elementary teacher he helped to prepare for the profession.

“When Lindsey and I talk through an idea, she goes and does it even better,” says Wyberg.

The year was a learning experience for everyone involved. When Wyberg co-teaches with Matt Linman, for example, he says they are able to combine their different strengths to help each other out while planning lessons.

“I help him with the math, but then we’ll work together with the pedagogy,” says Wyberg. “It’s been a nice connection for both of us.”

The mutual support present in each classroom has been an important facet of the partnership for the University but also for Billington and Wyberg’s co-teachers. Wittmann says that having another science educator to reflect with her has helped her become better at her job.

“It’s helped my practice and developed me as a science teacher,” says Wittmann. “That has been huge.”

Putting new knowledge to work

As the school year came to a close, Billington and Wyberg didn’t see their partnerships ending. Each envisions the personal relationships they’ve built impacting their work as much as their new skills will.

Billington would like to bring Wittmann into her methods class as a guest teacher. She senses that many of her teacher candidates are nervous about teaching science to elementary school students and thinks Wittmann could be a positive role model who can give teacher candidates some resources and reassurance.

“Many of them know that I’m trained as a secondary teacher, so it would show that there are enthusiastic people who teach elementary school and love to teach science, too,” Billington says.

Barton Open School, where Wyberg co-taught, has a long-standing relationship with the University. It has been a placement site for student teachers for many years, and Wyberg says he now has a different understanding of student teachers’ work in the classroom and role at the school.

“I got to work with the student teachers a little differently—as colleagues rather than coming in and watching them teach,” he says.

Associate dean Dillon sees the investment paying off in larger ways, too.

“I have no doubt that the partnership with faculty liaisons this past year will greatly inform our continuous improvement work in collaboration with school partner districts and sites,“ says Dillon.

Billington and Wyberg describe how lucky they feel to have been supported by the college, TERI, and their department to enable them to spend a year working side by side with their co-teachers in two of CEHD’s largest partner districts—Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools.

“I have been allowed to be a vital part of the science program at Linwood this year, which is a really wonderful experience,” says Billington.

Both look forward to starting the new academic year strong, with their new knowledge and deeper understanding of effective elementary education.

“I’m going to be bragging this up to my students,” says Wyberg of his year at Barton. “But in a way that tells them, ‘I understand what you’re going to go through’—maybe not a hundred percent, but a little bit. And I think that makes a difference.”

Learn more at www.cehd.umn.edu/teri.

Story by Ellen Fee | Photos by Dawn Villella | Fall 2015