Schools of Education work closely with K-12 teachers to help future teachers experience different challenges – working with parents, writing lesson plans, teaching, supporting struggling students, etc. Despite these sincere efforts, it is common for a young teacher to experience – in training – only a fraction of the many challenges s/he will face as a licensed, new teacher. For example, a future math teacher may have several opportunities to observe and teach in advanced mathematics courses like Algebra II and Trigonometry, but may not ever have the opportunity to communicate with a student who is struggling with basic algebraic functions (like solving for ‘x’ or multiplying negative numbers). To complicate matters, a given group of 20 future math or science teachers are typically placed across many different classrooms, where some will have certain instructional opportunities, and others will not. For example, only 1-2 future teachers may have the opportunity to speak with parents about a concern they have about science or mathematics content, leaving the other 18-19 future teachers without access to this very important learning experience.
The purpose of the Science and Mathematics Simulated Interaction Model (SIM) is to help fill in the gaps of current teaching preparation practices. To do so, the leading faculty member, Dr. Benjamin Dotger, examined one specific technique used to teach future doctors. In every U.S. medical school, future doctors engage in simulations with standardized patients. A standardized patient is a healthy individual who is carefully trained to portray a patient with an illness, injury, or health concern. The purpose of the simulation is to give the future doctor the opportunity to examine the standardized patient, diagnose the health concern, and communicate a regimen of treatment. Medical simulations are video recorded, and serve as one a series of tests that all future doctors must pass before they become licensed professionals.
In similar fashion, Dr. Dotger began using standardized students and parents in science and mathematics simulations for future teachers. The purpose is to provide all future mathematics teachers in a cohort – and not just 1-2 teachers who happen to be placed in a specific classroom – with the same opportunity. For example, in a math simulation, each future math teacher has the opportunity to interact face-to-face with a standardized student. This student is a local actor who has been carefully trained to represent a struggling 10th grade student. In simulation, the future math teacher has the opportunity to work directly with the student, review her algebra homework, diagnose the errors the student has made, and teach the student how to correctly interpret similar algebra problems. Importantly, these simulations are video-recorded, giving this future math teacher and her peers a chance to carefully deconstruct what she said and did as she worked to help the (standardized) student. Since all math teachers in the cohort engaged with the same standardized student – who presented the same algebra struggles – each teacher had the opportunity to put into practice what s/he has been taught as a teacher-in-training.
As a second example, consider the opportunity each future science teacher has to engage with a standardized parent who questions the teaching of evolutionary biology. This is a very real challenge that all future secondary science teachers are likely to encounter. Therefore, one simulation directly ...