New Mission: Teaching Teachers to Teach

Article excerpt

It's a cold and gloomy Friday morning near the end of the semester, but the students in one Smith College mathematics class sit spellbound.

They're deep into a calculus equation meant to figure out the speed with which a vat of grape juice ferments into wine.

"Here the problems are complex, they're messy, but they're interesting," said teacher Jim Callahan, part of a group devising new ways to teach calculus.

Smith and four other colleges in western Massachusetts have begun a three-year, $300,000 campaign that tackles something higher education is often accused of overlooking: teaching teachers to teach.

The others are the University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke, Amherst and Hampshire.

Kirsten Tambo, a Smith sophomore, said the effort made a difference.

"I took calculus in high school and it was just a bunch of numbers on the board. This is more like real life," she said.

A report released recently by the Wingspread Group on Higher Education said colleges and universities put teaching second to research. "Too much of education at every level seems to be organized for the convenience of educators and the institutions' interests, procedures and prestige, and too little focused on the needs of students," the commission said.

It was the latest in a series of similar pronouncements, and more universities are taking note. …

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