BOZEMAN – An innovative collaboration between Montana State University’s College of Education, Health and Human Development and an elementary school in Bozeman is bringing benefits to schoolteachers, schoolchildren and MSU students and faculty alike.
Known as the Hyalite/MSU Collaborative Classroom for Teacher Education Partnership, the collaboration enables MSU education students to put teaching methods they learn in university courses into practice in a real elementary school setting. The partnership also provides professional development opportunities to local schoolteachers and opportunities for MSU faculty to work closely with those teachers, while local schoolchildren have opportunities to engage in new learning experiences.
“The primary purpose of this project is to support symbiosis, where all involved gain something from participation,” said Nick Lux, an MSU education professor who has been instrumental in developing the collaboration.
The collaboration takes place at Hyalite Elementary School on Bozeman’s west side. There, MSU students meet as a class several days each week for several courses, including elementary science methods, elementary English language arts methods and a digital learning internship. Each course covers information that can be put to use in the classroom. For example, during the digital learning internship course, the students learn about digital teaching methods, or tool-based software and equipment that can help students learn. The MSU students evaluate different digital teaching strategies to determine those that are effective for teaching and learning. They develop strategies to integrate digital learning – such as coding and the use of iPads – into instruction.
Then, in the afternoon, the MSU students put what they’ve learned into practice. Each student is paired with a Hyalite schoolteacher. Together, the pairs teach lessons to Hyalite’s elementary schoolchildren in a space known as the Hyalite collaborative classroom.
According to Lux, the classroom has served as the hub of the partnership since the fall of 2013, when Lux began teaching at Hyalite a section of an MSU course on integrating technology into education. The class is required for all MSU education majors.
The partnership was so successful that Lux and others looked at ways to continue and expand it. This spring, Lux and MSU engineering professor Brock LaMeres successfully applied for a grant from the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education to help train teachers in the skills needed to use technology to enhance student learning in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Among other uses, the more than $63,000 grant was used to fund a planning retreat between faculty and administrators from MSU, Hyalite Elementary and Bozeman Public Schools to evaluate the partnership and discuss a collaborative approach to teaching science and English language arts. It also helped deliver a camp, where MSU education students, faculty, Hyalite paraprofessionals and local schoolchildren gathered together to teach and learn about coding and robotics.
Response to the partnership between MSU and Hyalite has been positive.
“We are so excited about our strong partnership with the Bozeman School District and the work taking place at Hyalite School,” said Jayne Downey, head of the MSU Department of Education. “This innovative collaboration is allowing all of us to come together to develop new and powerful approaches to prepare the next generation of K-12 teachers.”
Several MSU students who are enrolled in the digital learning internship said the experience has been invaluable.
“The great thing is you learn content and devise lesson plans in class and then can immediately go teach these lessons either in group situations or solo,” said Alicia Lothspeich, an MSU senior in education from Grangeville, Idaho. “This way you can visually see how effective the lesson was.”
She added that the learning is very purposeful, and that it gives students great opportunities for reflection and to receive helpful feedback from peers.
MSU education student Tanner Kanning said the experience at Hyalite will help him in his future teaching career.
“In future jobs, I believe I’ll have a good sense of how to work with the school staff for a combined purpose,” Kanning said. “I think I’ll also really have a sense of how to jump out of (my) comfort zone and start teaching.”
Mike Van Vuren, principal of Hyalite Elementary, said the partnership has provided important opportunities for Hyalite students and staff.
"The additional learning opportunities the MSU students provide our students are beneficial to the growth of both our students and staff,” Van Vuren said.
In fact, Lux said the project provides benefits to all involved.
“The participating teachers from Hyalite Elementary gain additional exposure to teaching and learning methods and the assistance of eager education students who are excited to begin honing their skills as teachers through their early field experiences,” Lux said. “Participating Hyalite students benefit from the opportunity to engage in often innovative and exciting activities delivered by the MSU students, while MSU faculty are able to engage with expert practicing teachers and then bring those perspectives back to their on-campus classes. And the MSU students are provided opportunities to gain invaluable experience by working with expert teachers.”
Contact: Nick Lux, assistant professor of education, (406) 994-6581 or firstname.lastname@example.org