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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Turning scientists, engineers into teachers

Math, chemistry and physics teachers are in short supply. A new MIT-based program is trying to turn scientists, engineers and programmers into teachers, reports Hechinger’s Jon Marcus.

The Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning bills itself as an education “lab” looking for new ways to train teachers. “We’ve thrown out tradition,” President Arthur Levine, who once led Columbia University’s Teachers College, told Marcus.

The academy will experiment with new training ideas, such as using “virtual reality avatars to simulate classroom situations and crises,” writes Marcus.

Students progress when they show mastery of concepts, preparing them to teach in schools that have adopted competency-based learning.

Faculty “mentors” teach online and in person.

Ultimately, the academy leaders stress, candidates will be judged the old-fashioned way: by being made to prove, in a real-world classroom, that they’ve learned their stuff. Student teaching remains a central part of the curriculum. But students also interact with those virtual reality avatars, which simulate difficult situations they may not encounter in their training, such as belligerent parents or young people who suffer crises of confidence. “You might be in a school for an entire year and never see a student have a meltdown. We’ll make sure you do,” Levine said.

After earning an engineering degree, Doyung Lee, 24, was “pretty miserable” as a programmer. “You develop web apps you never see people use.”

Breauna Campbell, 25, who specialized in chemical engineering, wants to “help the next generation.”

Finding 10 idealists — 25 in the fall — is doable. But the dream is to scale up. What would it take to persuade significant numbers of young scientists and engineers to become teachers? Would it be better to focus on mid-career professionals or early retirees?

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