MIT's Teacher Preparation Program (TPP) begins its third year this fall, offering an opportunity for students to pass on their skills in math and science to a younger generation.
The program, which is co-directed by Professors Jeanne Bamberger of music and Susan Carey of brain and cognitive sciences, originated several years ago through their respective research interests. Professor Bamberger's studies of music cognition and development led to broader work in how children learn about both music and technological subjects.
"From my studies of how children intuitively learn to understand and play music, I became interested in better understanding other kinds of everyday learning and how it differs from school learning," she said. "For instance, I've been puzzling over what seems to be a well recognized phenomenon-why is it that kids who are really good at building and taking apart complicated gadgets and machines are often kids who are having trouble learning in school."
TPP was developed around Professor Bamberger's work with elementary and high school teachers, in which she tried to get them away from rigid curricula and prompted them to think about their own understanding of various concepts, thus allowing them to realize that people have different learning styles and methods of mastering a subject. These issues are addressed in one of two core education classes, Issues in Students' Understanding of Mathematics and Science. For example, students working in pairs might be assigned to design and construct a pulley mechanism while their partners watch and take notes, then exchange roles. Afterwards, both must write papers reflecting on their own process and on how such tasks might be used as teaching and learning tools.
"In a classroom of 30 kids, you might have 10 or 20 different ways in which kids are thinking about problems," said Tony Bacigalupi, a TPP student who graduated in May with a degree in computer science. "Given what a student knows, you have to think about how you can get them to learn what you want them to learn."
In the second core course, MIT students observe mentor teachers in local public schools and offer their views on what they've seen; the teachers reciprocate by explaining their goals, methods and challenges in the classroom. To complete requirements of the MIT/Wellesley teacher certification program, students must also take Professor Carey's course in developmental psychology and one course at Wellesley, and they must do 150 hours of practice teaching.
The MIT courses are offered through the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, in keeping with a focus on teaching in inner-city schools. "MIT students are so good at seeing things in lots of different ways they're better positioned to see what these kids can do," Professor Bamberger explained.
If they start TPP as sophomores, students can complete their majors and most of the certification requirements during their four years at MIT, but many elect to do the Wellesley portion in the year after graduation. One source of financial assistance is a $10,000 award from the Noyce Foundation, to be given each year to an MIT student who plans to go into public education.
The first Noyce awardee is Sally Buta, who received her degree in materials science and engineering in May. She enrolled in the Experimental Studies Group as a freshman and has been an ESG tutor in physics and chemistry ever since. "The more I did that, the more I really enjoyed it and thought that this is maybe something I'd like to do," she said.
Other students remarked that their rigorous math and science training before and during their MIT careers makes them well qualified to teach those subjects, although learning how to teach students not as well versed in those areas was a challenge. "When you think you know a lot, you have to go back and understand what a kid understands," said Mr. Bacigalupi.
Talking with teachers about teaching was also valuable, TPP students said. The students were able to discuss what they'd just seen in the classroom and then get the teachers' viewpoints, "which were often very different," Ms. Buta said.
Among the mentors are four mathematics teachers at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Through a grant to MIT from the Department of Energy, they are released from one-fifth of their teaching load so they can assist the MIT students. The teachers also observe and consult with one another in conjunction with MIT faculty members as part of an effort to build a partnership between MIT and Cambridge schools.
Many youngsters don't get a thorough exposure to math and science, "and we'd like to see that change," said Carrie Heitman, a junior in nuclear engineering. TPP "takes the excitement that MIT students have for technical areas and lets them transfer it to the kids."
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 3).