Maymester gives mathematics, science students taste of the classroom

Release Date: 6/2/2014

It's a day before semester finals begin at Lamar (Ark.) High School and students in teacher James Smith's sophomore biology class are preparing for the comprehensive exams by …. playing Jeopardy?

Yes, a modified version of the popular TV game show Jeopardy was being used to help the high school students learn the concepts of biology. The unique study session was led by a group of University of the Ozarks students who are taking part in a program called Maymester, an intensive three-week practicum for prospective mathematics and science secondary teachers at Ozarks. The sixth-year program is made up of sophomore and juniors who have declared or who are strongly interested in pursuing a secondary education minor to go along with their major in either mathematics or science.

Nicholas McKinley

Nicholas McKinley, a junior biology major, explains a DNA sequence in a biology class at Lamar (Ark.) High School.

On this day, junior Nicholas McKinley, a biology major from Benton, Ark., is quizzing the high school students via a fast-paced version of Jeopardy. The categories included such topics as, "Genetics," "Cell Structure," "Cell Function," and "DNA and RNA."

As McKinley completes the question for "DNA-RNA" for 300 --- Which series of bases will complete a strand of RNA with the sequence TCAGTTAAG? --- a high school student darts up to the board to complete the sequence as McKinley offers encouragement.

"We thought this might be a fun way to review the material and help them get ready for the exam," McKinley said after the class period. "If we can make it a little more enjoyable and make it not seem like studying, we want to do that."

Stacy Key, chair of the University's Division of Mathematics and Sciences, and Dr. Kim Van Scoy, professor of environmental studies and science education, are directing the Maymester program. This year's program involves seven U of O students, including four juniors who took part in the program last year as sophomores.

The Maymester program at U of O is the only one of its kind in Arkansas. The professors say it has been a tremendous program for helping students decide whether or not they want to be classroom teachers before they get too far into the education curriculum.

Paige Gordon

Paige Gordon, a junior mathematics major, works with students in an Algebra II classroom at Lamar (Ark.) High School as part of the Maymester program.

"This program is really the first experience in front of a classroom for these students, so they learn pretty quickly what's it all about," said Key. "In most education programs around the country, students do not have an intensive teaching experience until their senior year. This program helps them decide whether or not education is for them before they waste many valuable hours and courses. Another key point is that all of these students are majoring in math or science, so they can pretty easily move in another direction if they decide that education isn't for them."

Van Scoy said the students also learn other valuable lessons that will benefit them as they embark on their classroom internships during their senior year.

"They learn the importance of collegiality, classroom management, student assessment skills, teaching techniques and laboratory safety," she said. "In combination with the full-year internship components, our secondary teachers in biology and mathematics are the most skilled and best-prepared teachers entering the teaching profession in the state."

Mary Eoff, a junior mathematics major from Rogers, Ark., said the Maymester experience has given her the confidence and reassurance to pursue a career in education.

"Being in front of a classroom of students who are looking at you, waiting for you to give them information and to teach them can be daunting and last year it was quite intimidating for me," said Eoff. "At times it made me question whether or not I wanted to go into teaching, but it got easier the more times I did it. I got more confident in my ability and my skills and now I know I can pull together a lesson plan, stand in front of a classroom and teach. I now know this is what I want to do."

Brittney Schluterman, a mathematics teacher at Lamar, said her students also benefit from the program.

"Our students enjoy the new faces and fresh, new teaching approaches that the university students bring to the classroom, especially at the end of the school year" Schluterman said. "Having them lead the classroom has also made me more aware of my own teaching style and skills. It's been a very positive experience."

One of the unique aspects of the four-credit-hour Maymester program is that the students and professors spend the three weeks living together in one of the on-campus residence halls.

"After a day at the school, the students return to the residence hall with the faculty members and we go through a teaching critique about the day with each student," said Van Scoy. "We will prepare and eat dinner as a group and then the students will work with their faculty members and colleagues on the next day's lesson plans."

Key said one of the biggest issues for the prospective teachers at Ozarks is learning to convey their knowledge to their students.

"They all know their subjects, but they are learning that it isn't always easy to share that knowledge in a way that is easy to understand and that reaches the students," Key said. "That's a lot of what we discuss and work on."

Abril Lara, a sophomore mathematics major from Honduras, is in her first Maymester program. She said the entire experience has been reaffirmed her goal of being a classroom teacher.

"I started out as a business major, but education was something that always interested me," Lara said. "This program has helped me realize that I definitely want to be a teacher."