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From Abbe Creek to e-portfolios

  Mary Russell Curran  

Education department guides future teachers

Technology has transformed today's classrooms, but Dick Peters still takes his "History and Philosophy of Education" students to see Abbe Creek, the country school up the road from Cornell.

The visit reminds everyone that teachers used to haul water and chop wood. It also connects the students' experience directly to their learning of educational history and philosophy.

"Thomas Jefferson set the whole frame of mind for American education," Peters says. He wants Cornell's future teachers to share the Jeffersonian belief in the "value of knowing," even if they teach in a small school with limited resources.

Encouraging creativity
Professor Gayle Luck and assistant professor Kerry Bostwick are in complete accord with Peters. The departmental objectives express its commitment to developing teachers "who see the value and excitement of knowledge for its own sake," who continually explore "the many possible ways to teach," and who respect and meet the needs of individual students and communities.

Bostwick points out that the role of today's teachers is not always clear, given changing standards and prescribed textbooks.

"Teachers are often asked to follow ideas that are not their own," she says. "Some companies even market 'teacher-proof' books! We urge our students to always look for new ways to do things, not to be sucked in to preconceptions."

professor Gayle Luck

Luck underscores the goal: "Creativity is one of the things we really want. We encourage students to be insightful and thoughtful and to make learning exciting."

The three colleagues strive to provide an example of creative, effective teaching.

"We all try to teach that way," says Peters. "We want to grab students, engage them, and make a contribution to their minds and hearts. If our students study that kind of teaching and see us doing it, they'll be able to go out and do it too."

Integrating technology
One of the major challenges of recent years has been to integrate technology into the education curriculum and departmental record keeping.

Luck credits administrative assistant Diane Harrington with building a database to track much of the information the state now requires. For each of Cornell's 120 education majors-called "pre-service teachers" by today's education pundits-she records Praxis I and Praxis II test scores, as well as all education courses, grades, practicums, and student teaching experiences. She also arranges all practicums and student teaching assignments in 12 different districts and assists graduating seniors with their cover letters, resumes, and job search strategies for their first teaching jobs (senior Jennifer Kohl calls Harrington the glue of the department).

at right, assistant professor Kerry Bostwick  

In addition to facilitating the department's reporting and placement responsibilities, technology has assumed an essential role in the curriculum.

Peters notes the major effects: "We and our students have instant access to research materials and to current developments, so we can pursue a far greater range of interests. Technology has also changed the way we present lessons and assignments, so we can better help those who learn in different ways."

Starting in their junior year, students build Web pages that display their résumés, photos, educational philosophies, sample lesson plans, and professional development plans. "Students can now burn CDs and give electronic portfolios to prospective employers," Luck says. "We've had a great deal of positive feedback about e-portfolios from districts and graduates."

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