By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Isabel De Leon is a bit nervous about her upcoming student teaching experience, but you’d have never known by watching her Friday.
The Grand Island native was having a blast with students at Windy Hills Elementary, a partner school for the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s math methods II teacher education course.
De Leon led the “cotton ball shot put” during the UNK Measurement Olympics, a hands-on activity designed to strengthen the elementary students’ math skills in a fun and engaging way.
A UNK senior studying elementary education with an English as a second language endorsement, De Leon explained the rules, lined up each group of students, then started the countdown.
“Ready, set, go!”
After the students gave their cotton ball a fling, they estimated the distance it traveled before measuring with a yardstick.
“It’s fun to see them enjoy learning,” De Leon said while working with the elementary students.
Roughly 250 students from Windy Hills, a K-5 school in Kearney, participated in the Measurement Olympics, which included events such as the drinking straw javelin, paper plate discus, high jump, big foot contest and left-handed sponge squeeze.
The activity allowed the students to estimate and measure distance, height, area, mass and volume in a setting outside the classroom. They also learned about foreign countries, as each group represented a participant from the 2020 Olympic Games. “Gold medals” were awarded to K-2 students for sportsmanship, and third, fourth and fifth graders received participation certificates, with paper medals given to students with the closest estimates in each event.
For elementary students, the activity taught them important math concepts while connecting the subject to a real-world event – the upcoming Summer Olympics.
For UNK students, it was an opportunity to develop and deliver a lesson plan in a school setting.
“This experience is preparing me for my future because I’m learning how to teach a lesson in a hands-on manner to meet the standards,” said UNK senior Katie Nathan, an elementary education major from Fullerton.
Abigail Spiehs, an elementary and special education major from Grand Island, saw the same value.
“This event helps me prepare for real classroom teaching because I’m learning how to create engaging and meaningful mathematical discourse to support learning while also connecting with students in ways that interest them,” the UNK senior said.
More than 40 Lopers, most of whom will student teach next semester, took part in the activity. In addition to the math methods class, 10 students from UNK’s Teachers Scholars Academy volunteered to assist.
“I love that the teacher education candidates experienced something like this, to witness the excitement, integration of subject matter and real-world applications. It gives the candidates an example of a schoolwide event and a way to extend learning for elementary children,” said Jane Strawhecker, a professor and co-chair in UNK’s Department of Teacher Education.
“Our student teacher applicants are looking for those experiences to help propel them when they’re actually in teaching positions,” added graduate assistant Alex Hinrichsen. “It’s good to get them out here and learning ways you can implement your curriculum without having to focus on classroom learning. There are ways to teach math outside the classroom that strengthen that connection for students.”
Students from UNK’s math methods II class taught lessons at Windy Hills Elementary throughout the semester, allowing them to further develop critical-thinking, leadership and communication skills while deepening their understanding of the course material and applying the knowledge they gained at UNK. The field experience is also an opportunity to network with teachers and administrators at Windy Hills and receive valuable feedback.
“I’m consistently impressed with UNK students when they come into my building. They always bring great energy, they’re well-prepared and they know how to interact with kids,” said Windy Hills Principal Nathan Lightle, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the university. “UNK really should be proud of the students they’re sending to our schools.”
De Leon, who will student teach next semester at Knickrehm Elementary School in Grand Island, knows experiences like last week’s Measurement Olympics will benefit her as she advances in her career.
“I’m nervous, but I think I have all the tools to be successful in student teaching,” she said.