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MAKING THE GRADE

5/3/2010 —

If the students in the elementary education in multicultural settings major (ELEDM) at Penn State Brandywine are representative of the next generation of teachers, then the future of education looks rosy indeed.
At the Student Pennsylvania State Education (SPSEA) Conference held in April, junior Iris Thai won first place in the state competition with her entry, “Pizza Fractions.” Just two weeks later, “Pizza Fractions” also won first place in the EURECA competition held on the Brandywine campus.

Thai said she was “very excited and surprised” with this double honor. “I honestly thought everyone did a wonderful job,” she added.

“Pizza Fractions” employs a fun and creative approach for teaching the concept of fractions to children in third grade. Entertaining and educational at the same time, it makes what is sometimes an elusive concept for children easy to understand.

“My third graders at Evans Elementary School were learning fractions with an overhead (projector) and worksheet,” Thai said. “I thought this would be more captivating for the kids because they love pizza and can make real-world connections to math.”

Thai wasn’t the only Brandywine student to compete. Seniors Ashley McBride, Patti Wray and Shana Rush, and juniors Amy Moore, Mary Grandizio and Margie Whelan participated in two competitions: APEX (Achieving Excellence) and Classroom Learning Centers. Moore and fellow ELEDM major Jackie Glace, who could not attend because she was presenting at another conference, created and submitted the report and scrapbook presentation of the club's accomplishments this year to APEX. McBride and Wray submitted their learning center, "Frog and Toad," in the category of "chapter" or joint entry.

“Although our ‘Frog and Toad’ center and APEX scrapbook report did not win at the conference, they are winners as far we are concerned,” commented field supervisor and instructor in education Jean McKay, who serves as the Education Club adviser and accompanied the students to the conference.

Despite this disappointment, there was great rejoicing when three of the Brandywine students were elected officers of SPSEA's Southeast Region. Moore is the newly elected president, Grandizio is vice president, and Thai is secretary. The new administration is already planning a year packed with activities.

“We’ll have meetings throughout the year,” Moore said, “and we’ll get to know officers in other regions.” The networking with students from other colleges and universities is valuable in terms of gathering information.
The group hopes to host a regional meeting in the fall on campus. “We are writing a proposal to get funding so that it can happen,” Grandizio said. “That’s something we’ll be working on this summer.”

“The conference was a really wonderful experience for our juniors and seniors,” McKay said. “In terms of the networking opportunities, the workshops were full of information on instructional techniques and other things teachers need to know.”

As they did this past year, the students plan to co-host Multicultural Day, host the Philadelphia Zoo’s traveling zoo and participate in club rush, where they hope to recruit new students into the club. There are currently about 20 active members.

“This is a wonderful group of students, very focused,” McKay said. Some of the students have known for a long time that they wanted to pursue a teaching career, and others only discovered their inner teacher after trying a different major. They are also very bonded with McKay, their other education faculty (Patricia Van Leuvan and Barbara Gottlieb) and each other. It is a close-knit, supportive atmosphere.

“The small group environment is what makes it personal,” McBride said. “The faculty give us their phone numbers and always make sure we know they’re available. They know our strengths and weaknesses and are there to help anytime.”

“We get a lot of individual attention,” Rush said. “Our faculty know where the best placements are for student teaching, and we have all had great experiences with our schools.”

Penn State Brandywine has a unique education program, in that juniors are given a school placement one day a week, and then remain with that classroom for the entire year. During their senior year, they are placed in another classroom, where they stay with the same students for the entire year. This not only gives them more experience, it gives them extra time to work with the same group of children at the school.

“Our kids really get to know us,” McBride, who taught at Overbrook School, said. “I hope to get a position at the school. I would love to stay.”

The support from the campus has been a big part of the group’s success. Director of Academic Affairs “Paul deGategno has been very supportive, and we thank him for that,” McKay said.

And the students clearly are grateful for McKay’s ongoing support.

“Jean McKay has helped me out so much,” Thai said. “I wouldn't have been able to do this without her. She went above and beyond for me.”

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