By

Erik Ketcherside

Ashleigh Justice didn’t set out to be a teacher, but as a psychology major, she learned some of the basics. “We looked at a lot of the theories behind learning — Bronfenbrenner, Piaget, the development of children — from the scientific perspective, not so much how it influences teaching.” Ashleigh planned a career in business psychology, but was already doubting that path when life got complicated. “I did the half-school, half-work thing, and that was very difficult for me. Then I had my son, and after that I worked in sales. It wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, but it was practice in business and working with people.”

Ashleigh was chatting with a customer who works for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College as a site coordinator for student teachers. “I told her I really like the idea of teaching — my mom’s a teacher — and she said, ‘So why don’t you be a teacher?’ And I thought, maybe I could do that.” Ashleigh took the core classes she needed, and now she’s a teacher candidate in the Pendergast school district in Phoenix. She’ll graduate from ASU in December with a BAE in special education and elementary education.

Ashleigh says that particular degree offering was important to her. “As a student with ADHD, I challenged some teachers more than other students did, and I didn’t have the best experience with them.” Her own experience is also one reason she used the Sanford Inspire Program module, Designing a Problem-Based Learning Experience, while teaching a summer school program for kids with learning difficulties. It’s one of many free modules available on demand from the Sanford Inspire Program through Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Concern: Addressing differences in learning modes, learning difficulties

“I love teaching math,” Ashleigh says, but admits it can be challenging because of differences from student to student. “It’s not just that they have varying abilities and skills. It’s also the way they like to look at math. Some people are more visual, some are more tactile. Some work well with concrete algebra and concrete numbers.” She says many teaching challenges come from recognizing those differences and creating learning activities that address all the students’ needs simultaneously, while integrating those activities into lesson plans consistent with curriculum standards. She points to her experience with her summer school students as an example. “All of them had learning difficulties, but the concept of ratios was particularly difficult for some of those students in the beginning.”

Solution: Problem-based learning can engage better than direct instruction

Designing a Problem-Based Learning Experience takes only an hour to complete, but Ashleigh was able to start using it for lesson planning immediately in her summer school program. “For our last exercise we did a problem-based learning that was tied into the summer school fun. They were going to make ice cream floats. (I know soda isn’t the best thing to have for kids, but it was a party.) I had them figure out, ‘What is the ratio of people who want this kind of soda to this kind of soda, and this kind of ice cream to another kind?’ They had to determine the ratios and how much the ingredients were going to cost.”

Ashleigh considers the lesson a big success. “They thought it was exciting. They didn’t realize they were actually working on ratios. We told them, ‘You have to figure out who wants what so we can plan this party.’ And they used what they knew.”

Evaluation

Ashleigh credits Sanford Inspire Program modules with helping her bolster her practice of teaching in several areas. “When it came to designing really good lesson plans that sparked children’s interest and got them engaged, that was something I was weak on.” Ashleigh also recommends the Sanford offerings on behavior management.

“One thing I really like about the Sanford Inspire modules,” she says, “is they are concise. There is a lot of thought put into what belongs in the module and what doesn’t, and what is the important take-home. That’s stated from the very beginning of the lessons. ‘You’re going to be learning about this.’ Also, the modules are created so that everything about them supports that objective. So what you learn from those modules you can immediately put into practice.”

Perhaps because she is a career-switch teacher, Ashleigh is devoting extra attention to the kind of classroom she wants for her own, and using the Sanford Inspire Program modules to build it. “I want to create a positive atmosphere for the students. Studies show that when students are comfortable in their environment, they learn better. I want to create a classroom where they’re excited about math, where they want to explore things in their own world and maybe create their own problem-based learning. I want them to not be afraid. I want to trim ‘math anxiety’ from the seventh grade on and help them be less intimidated.”

Teacher resource: Designing a Problem-Based Learning Experience

Type: On-demand, single user

Cost: Free

Estimated time required: 1.0 hour

Completion documentation: Certificate

Teacher Standards (InTASC): Content: Standard 4 — Content Knowledge

Topics: Planning and Delivery > Components of Inquiry

For more free professional development resources for teachers, administrators, schools and districts, visit the Sanford Inspire Program homepage, and the ASU Professional Learning Library, powered by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.