Zinser-GVSU partnership a win-win for third graders, college students

College math course for future teachers housed in elementary school

Zinser Elementary third grade teacher Aelise Goller in her classroom. Once a week, her class learns math from 21 GVSU students studying to be teachers and associate professor John Golden

Third grader Emma Deyman gave the seal of approval to her math class’ partnering with 21 Grand Valley State University future teachers.

“I think it’s fun; it gets your brain moving,” said Emma, who’s interested in math and art. “To start our brains off we’re doing number circles. Last time we counted by 100s and played memory games.

“I really like it.”

For the second straight year, GVSU associate professor John Golden has housed his math class for elementary teachers at Zinser Elementary, to help his students prepare for a career in education while teaching math to third graders.

GVSU associate professor John Golden, in striped shirt, works with his college students and a Zinser math class as part of a weekly relationship that benefits both schools

The course, required for all GVSU elementary education students, meets two days a week at Zinser. While a separate class meets on-campus, the Zinser version is for “prospective teachers who are willing to have the extra hassle of meeting off campus to get in the real teaching experience,” Golden said.

“The goal is to help our learners make the transition to a teacher’s understanding of content and pedagogy, how to work with learners,” Golden said. “It seems to also be a positive experience for the third graders, who get individualized instruction over and above their usual math program.”

His students teach in pairs with small groups of third graders. “Typically, I prepare a lesson which they adapt for their learners, but they get more independence as the semester progresses,” said Golden, who observes with his assistant and then reflects with each pair afterwards.

He said GVSU associate math professor Esther Billings originated the idea of this “mediated field experience” and piloted it at Stocking Elementary in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Another colleague of Golden’s, Pam Wells, now GVSU’s registrar, worked with Zinser for years, including a large-scale sabbatical project.

“I love the opportunity to work with learners pre-K to 16-plus, especially with math games and math art,” said Golden, who’s taught at GVSU since 1997. “I really appreciate all that the teachers, including Wendy Gravelyn last year, and Principal (Ross) Willick have done to make this program work. It has been fantastic for our pre-service teachers, and I’m learning a lot as well.”

GVSU associate professor John Golden and class assistant Victoria Wittenbach evaluate college students after a math session with Zinser Elementary third graders

Teacher Values Partnership

Third grade teacher Aelise Goller said her students really like the partnership.

“They look forward to it each week and then we talk about it in our math lesson,” said Goller, a GVSU grad. “It ties in really well.”

Goller said the one-to-one instruction is valuable.

“It’s a very small group so the kids are getting a lot of individualized attention. They’re working on concepts that we’re working on in the classroom or that they worked on in previous years, so it reinforces those skills and gives them the extra practice.

“And they do it in a fun way, with games along with their lessons, so the kids are very engaged and motivated.”

Student Anthony Marsiglia said the math class is very helpful: “There are charts, story problems, games with blocks on a 100s chart.”

Zinser Elementary third grade teacher Aelise Goller said her students benefit from personalized instruction from GVSU students

Collegians Like ‘Real World’ Experience

On the other end of the spectrum, GVSU sophomore Braelyn Myers said the class is helping her learn and prepare for her future classroom, and how to approach and teach difficult math concepts.

“Working with the students at Zinser is really beneficial for me so I can gain experience working with and actually practicing how to teach,” before doing teacher assisting and student teaching in her fifth year, Myers said. “The kids love being able to work with college kids and are always asking questions that show us their understanding of the lesson, which is great.”

GVSU sophomore Victoria Wittenbach took the course last year and is a class assistant for Golden this semester.

“It’s nice to take what you’re learning in the classroom and applying it to students because it’s very different than just learning about it,” Wittenbach said.

Willick, the principal, said the decision to create the partnership was a no-brainer, noting that math is a “tough subject” that causes students “the most anxiety.”

“It’s a good connection for them and for us,” he said. “We love having people helping us; I’m hoping it’s a long-term partnership.”

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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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