Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

March 10, 2011 Volume 32, No. 23

Program teaches science students how to teach science


Interns fill a need while gaining experience

Holding the attention of 300 undergraduate students is a daunting challenge for any educator, let alone a new professor. That’s why two University of Missouri faculty members are helping doctoral students gain experience in the lecture hall. 

Patricia Friedrichsen, an associate professor of science education, and Bethany Stone, an assistant teaching professor of biological sciences, developed an internship program that will give students hands-on experience in teaching college-level science courses.

“There was a void for a lot of graduate students leaving with a PhD and going into a career in the academic field,” Stone said. “There seemed to be a lack of training and teaching, and this internship program ... fills the gaps and gives grad students the chance to get experience with all the things they need to be a good teacher.”

The program began a few years ago when one of Friedrichsen’s doctoral students expressed an interest in teaching college science. The two interns chosen each year are in charge of grading, but also come up with homework assignments, group activities and exam questions. In addition to the behind-the-scenes work, the students are given the opportunity to actually give lectures to the classes.

“I let them do a little lecturing with my material, and then Bethany and I work really closely with the individual,” Friedrichsen said. “Our goal is to have them select a topic that is of interest to them and they produce a short unit of their own where they teach that in the auditorium.”

Having the interns lecture in class sparks excitement and interest from students in the class, Friedrichsen said. Interns are encouraged to pick topics they’re passionate and knowledgeable about and apply it to the course. For instance, one intern used her unique knowledge of whales to teach an evolution unit.

“They’re not just empty vessels,” Stone said. “They certainly come in with their own experiences and ideas, and they might see a problem that I don’t see and have a good idea for fixing it. It has made my teaching better and it’s fun to work with graduate students because usually I work with undergraduate non-majors. It’s a nice change of pace.”

Throughout the semester, Friedrichsen and Stone meet frequently with the interns to talk about the course, as well as teaching and evaluation methods. Following the lectures, the mentors provide feedback to their interns to help them improve.

“We talk and we ask, ‘What are the big ideas?’ ‘What makes sense for this population of students to learn?’ ‘What are effective ways to teach?’” Friedrichsen said. “Then we give a lot of feedback on the scope, sequence, content of their lectures and the strategies they’re using.”

Two of Friedrichsen’s former interns are now teaching college-level biology: Kristen Hutchins at Howard Payne University and Kristy Halverson at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Friedrichsen said she feels that she and Stone get just as much out of the experience as the teaching interns do.

 “I find it really invigorating,” she said. “It gives me an opportunity to be reflective, and they’re giving me another perspective on my teaching and I really value that.”

— Kelly Nelson