Experiential learning, whether simulated in the classroom or practiced through internships or field experience, helps students feel prepared for the challenges they will face as practitioners in the real world. This is especially true for students preparing to become teachers.
Recent elementary education graduate Jessica Whittaker (’15) understands the benefits of NNU’s focus on experiential learning first-hand. “I had an amazing learning experience during my time in NNU's education department. I learned a lot over the years and was able to have many experiences that I can look back on, learn from, and apply in my own classroom.”
NNU provides education majors countless opportunities—starting freshman year—to get into real classrooms and work with mentor teachers. The “aha!” moments that come from these experiences are priceless.
“Knowing that each semester I was at NNU I'd be in a classroom getting hands-on experience with a focus on a specific aspect of teaching was so impactful. A lot of other schools I was looking into didn't allow education students to be in a classroom until they were officially accepted into the program their junior year. The fact that I was able to start off being in a classroom the beginning of my freshman year allowed for a lot of great hands-on learning.”
Jessica shares that field experiences and student teaching weren’t the only places where she gained critical hands-on experience. NNU students also learn and practice strategies with NNU education faculty who have years and years of experience with classroom instruction and curriculum development.
“Another ‘aha moment’ came my senior year in one of my methods courses. Professor Ward was instructing in Teaching the Whole Child. In this course we talked about incorporating music, movement and more into our lessons to engage students and enrich the learning experience for them. Professor Ward modeled how to do that with us. One day she brought in play dough for us to use to reflect our understanding of a reading assignment, other days we got up out of our seats to apply action to learning, and we also did fun ‘brain breaks,’ which included some choreographed dancing.
“It was so fun for me to be the student in these situations and I was very cognizant of how those activities engaged me as a learner and helped me retain information. A lot of the things we tried in that class I've applied to my own classroom.”
All these “aha!” moments that NNU education majors have while practicing the art of teaching as students translate into their own teaching practice, as Jessica points out: “My students have reacted well to the different techniques I learned. Some of these activities have allowed for relationship and community building opportunities within our room, while others have helped students remember important learning because of the hands-on activities.”