During the spring 1995 semester, students enrolled in the Mathematics for Childhood Education course within the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at East Stroudsburg University participated in a distance learning project with a school in the Pleasant Valley School District located about 20 miles from the university. Two-way full-motion, interactive video enabled pre-service teachers to observe and, ultimately, to better understand the role of an elementary mathematics teacher.
As recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in their Curriculum and Evaluation Standards, and Professional Standards, future teachers need to become familiar with a variety of teaching techniques and assessment methods. In particular, they must become familiar with the potential uses of technology to enhance the effectiveness of an elementary mathematics program.
The distance learning project with a local school district enabled our pre-service teachers to see how manipulatives and real-life problem situations supplied worthwhile mathematics tasks for real elementary students. Pre-service teachers could discuss with these elementary teachers the effectiveness of implemented tasks. And, although not the project's primary focus, it also enabled pre-service teachers to become aware of distance learning's potential in an elementary classroom, as well as in a methods course.
* Two Strategies Tested
The first strategy for using distance learning to enhance this mathematics methods course was to allow pre-service teachers to actually see, in real time, what takes place in a classroom before, during and after a well-planned mathematics task is implemented.
Our second strategy was for pre-service teachers, in a team-teaching format, to plan and implement a mathematics task under the guidance of the methods course instructor and the K-12 classroom teacher. In order for pre-service teachers to better understand what they observed, a reflection session with the methods course instructor and the classroom teacher followed each distance learning strategy.
Once a local cable TV company installed the hardware and the university's telecommunications technicians prepared it for use, the distance learning project was underway.
Coordinating schedules between the two locations (the elementary school classroom and the university) was the most challenging aspect of the project. Since the pre-service teachers' schedules were predetermined by their overall course schedules, the classroom teacher at the elementary school was very accommodating in maneuvering her students' classes and lunch periods to create time slots in common with the two sections of the methods course at the university.
* Strategy One: Classroom Teacher
On the day of the scheduled live observation, the pre-service teachers met in the television production studio where they were able to see and hear the fifth-grade students as they were getting ready for math class. With two-way audio and video capabilities, the youngsters were able to hear and see the pre-service teachers as well (who did not appear as animated while on camera as the youngsters!). Then the actual math lesson began.
The fifth-grade teacher presented a mathematics task that challenged the youngsters to prepare for a party at an apartment that desperately needed new carpeting installed beforehand. Numerous mathematical concepts and problem-solving strategies were integrated throughout the activity, reflective of the NCTM standards.
The task provided an opportunity for the fifth-graders to make decisions based on the concept of area. Since the carpeting was available for purchase at $4.50 per square foot, students were reminded of a previous lesson on population density that dealt with square miles. This connection with another form of square units set the stage for a demonstration of measuring the area of the blackboard using a square foot model. …