By: Ellen Farr

A cadre of TCNJ faculty members is enhancing teacher preparation courses as part of a project funded by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. The Teacher Effectiveness Grant encourages teacher educators to integrate math, science, and technology into their courses to include students with disabilities and enhance all studentsí learning. The grant places special emphasis on inquiry and design-based learning while making activities accessible to all students.

Inquiry and design-based learning highlights contextual learning; that is, students learn content as needed to solve practical, real-world problems. This application of knowledge and skills, in conjunction with hands-on learning, makes the educational experience more meaningful to students. In practice, students are presented with a challenge and are asked to solve it with a given set of materials. Their solution is successful as long as it meets established criteria.

For example, students may be asked to devise a structure to support a given weight. The criteria is that it must be freestanding, as tall as possible (but at least 12 inches high), and support the weight for a specified amount of time. Students, under a time limit, may use three sheets of copier paper and a foot of masking tape to accomplish this challenge. The solutions are limited only by the studentsí imagination. This one activity could be used to introduce, practice or assess various concepts such as measurement, ratios, gravity or properties of materials, to name a few.

This process presents students with the opportunity to develop unique solutions by illustrating the point that there is not one correct method to reach a desired outcome. Students are encouraged to think creatively and showcase their own strengths, while demonstrating skill competency. Activities can be adapted so that students of all ability levels are successful.

By introducing inquiry and design-based learning into curriculum and methods courses at TCNJ, the Teacher Effectiveness Grant is establishing skills in future teachers that will enable them to include students with disabilities in math, science and technology activities while enhancing the learning of all students.

Ellen Farr is is an alumna of The College of New Jersey (M.S. Educational Technology) and the Project Coordinator of the Teacher Effectiveness Grant.

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