Teaching Students with Strong Science and Math Backgrounds

In this section, Prof. Klopfer describes some of the advantages and challenges of teaching an education class for students with strong backgrounds in science and math. Next, he shares some of the key points in this area that he explicitly discusses with his students in class.

Challenges and Advantages Resulting from Students' Strong Science and Math Backgrounds

For most of the students, math and science have always come really easily to them… and sometimes it’s a struggle for them to think about, 'Why is this student not getting it?'

– Prof. Klopfer

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MIT students typically have very strong backgrounds in science and math, and students in this course are no exception. In this video, Professor Eric Klopfer describes how the students' backgrounds and personal educational experiences present both advantages and challenges as the students learn about education.

Discussing Challenges and Advantages in Class

During the first week of class, I explicitly talks with my students about some of the unusual challenges that they, as MIT students, face in this course. As discussed in the Course Overview and Rationale, the key challenges the class discusses are the following:

  • 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.