Taking a SMART approach to teacher preparation

Photo by Tim Schoon.

Jillian Magee’s fingers glide quickly over the smooth surface of the SMART Table as she manipulates coins and dollars bills on the screen. What appears to be a big video game app is actually a learning exercise designed to teach young students both counting and financial literacy.

“It’s exciting to know how to use this cutting-edge technology to help students learn more effectively,” says Magee, a University of Iowa elementary education major from Oswego, Ill.

Several of Magee’s fellow students will serve as docents during an open house Thursday, June 9, for the new UI College of Education Teacher Leader Center, one of the first of its kind in the nation. The center opens this month, transforming the way future teachers are taught.

Contemporary egg- and bagel-shaped beanbag chairs in shades of apple green, blueberry, and magenta dot an open environment that inspires collaboration and creativity. Four large LCD television screens flank one wall. A SMART Table is situated in the middle of the room, a multitouch, multiuser device for teaching early childhood skills.

UI students pursuing careers in education engage in various activities—some are relaxing on the chairs while watching large LCD television screens. Others have adjusted the flexible furniture to create their own small learning clusters.

What most distinguishes this space, however, are the technology-rich resources that saturate the space—everything from the more than 20 iPads to a 3-D screen and other digital devices designed to transform students into teacher leaders.

“The UI College of Education has been a technological leader for a long time but to remain cutting-edge, you can’t be complacent. You have to keep expanding,” says UI College of Education Dean Sandra Damico. “What this does is take our teacher education program to another level, not just in the state of Iowa but nationally.”

The center is a comprehensive space developed for students admitted to the Teacher Preparation Program at the University. The goal is to provide students with core student support in one central location, offer an administrative home for the Teacher Leader Certificate program, and offer students a technology-enhanced learning commons.

“What we know about engaging people in active learning is that the environment has to support that,” says Lagos-Lavenz, who is the associate dean for teacher education and student services and a clinical professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies in the UI College of Education. “This environment definitely achieves that goal.”

Almost 400 UI students annually complete the course work that is required for certification and teacher licensure. Over the past 10 years, the UI has graduated almost 4,500 teachers, more than half of whom stay in the state of Iowa. UI graduates teach in all 99 Iowa counties as well as in every state in the nation and countries throughout the world.

Dignitaries, state leaders, and members of the community will have a chance to see the new 6,000-plus square foot center during the open house from 4 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, June 9, located at N140 Lindquist Center on the UI campus. The event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.

Dean Sandra Damico, Teaching and Learning Department Chair Peter Hlebowitsh, and Teacher Leader Center Director Susan Lagos-Lavenz will give remarks at 4:45 p.m. Attendees will have the chance to visit different technology stations while UI student docents give tours and demonstrate using the technology.

As part of the transformation, every student now entering the teacher preparation program will be required to obtain a Teacher Leader Certificate that offers three strands of specialization—assessment, technology, or community.

“Our students will graduate knowing how to use, for instruction, iPads, Androids, SMART boards, virtual reality boards, and a variety of assistive technology devices,” Damico says.

Another unique feature of the center is that it is designed to support the entire life cycle of students as they progress through the teacher education program, from the moment they enter the program to their career placement and continued professional development as alumni and community members.

Lagos-Lavenz says the center’s creation was based on research and best practices, employer surveys, and feedback from educational leaders across the state and nation.

“We asked, ‘What do you want teachers to know?’ and ‘What makes a successful teacher leader?’” says Lagos-Lavenz.

She adds that the responses helped shape the new center, which includes a learning commons, workshop, and conference areas, as well as room for the 10 staff members, including two advisors. “They said they want students who know how to use technology as well as how to continually assess student achievement and how to work with changing demographics.”

Another major development connected to the center is the creation of a living-learning community for UI students interested in education. Seventy UI students will live in the new community, located in Slater Residence Hall, starting this fall.

Almost 20 faculty, staff, and students worked on a design team over the past year to develop a plan for the center, which previously served as the UI Curriculum Library.

For more information on the center, visit www2.education.uiowa.edu/services/tlc/default.aspx or call Lagos-Lavenz at 319-335-5437. For more information or special accommodations to attend the open house, call Jim Verry in advance at 319-335-5353 or e-mail james-verry@uiowa.edu.