PORTLAND - A group of 13 Oregon State University master's degree pre-service teachers are heading to a northeast Portland elementary school for three weeks in April.

The university pre-service teachers will be working as student teachers in eight classrooms at King Elementary on the best ways to teach math and science to culturally diverse students.

Jean Moule, an instructor in OSU's School of Education, said teachers in the Professional Teacher Education Program hope to improve their ability to establish a culturally just classroom climate - conducive to learning for all pupils - that recognizes the effects of a student's home and community on learning.

The OSU students and two university professors will begin their program at King Elementary April 12. The pre-service teachers will observe and help out in the classrooms for the first week. The second two weeks will be spent putting their observations to work as they teach a 10-lesson unit of math or science.

King Elementary was chosen because "about 85 percent of its 800 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students are children of color," Moule said.

"First we have to go where the diverse students are," Moule said. "Then we need to adjust our strategies. Telling these students that they need to do well in school is often not enough, especially when this is connected to getting along in the dominant culture that may not be giving them positive feedback. If they don't buy into it, they may not be motivated to learn. We need to make learning culturally relevant.

"The best classrooms focus on the strengths of the children's cultures while teaching skills to succeed in the larger community," she added.

Moule said that there are some differences in learning that can be culturally based.

"For example, there are some cultures that are more family-based, or some who are more respectful of age, or that encourage more hands-on learning than the dominant culture in America, and we need to incorporate this information when we teach," Moule said.

King Elementary Principal Joseph Malone said he decided to be part of the Alternate Placement and Math/Science Curriculum Development for Pre-service Teachers of Minority Students program because he saw it as a win-win situation.

"It was an information and growth opportunity for our teachers, and also a win situation to entice students who want to become teachers to know what the school and the classroom is all about," he said.

All of OSU's 55 students enrolled in the teacher education program have participated in some aspect of this grant activity. Also, two King teachers attended math and science curriculum development workshops at OSU in October and about 10 more King teachers will have the opportunity to continue with them in April. Eight King teachers serve as mentors for the university pre-service teachers.

This program was made possible by a $27,770 grant from the Oregon Eisenhower Professional Development Higher Education Grant Program that is federally funded, a contribution equivalent of $2,200 from the Portland School District for teachers' time in this program and by grant management expertise from OSU.

Moule said that this project should not only benefit the students and teachers at King, but also the OSU pre-service teachers who are expected to gain their teaching licenses in June.

"When these OSU students come out of this program they'll teach science and math better. They're going to know how to treat students as individuals. And, I expect the experience will explode their stereotypes," Moule said.

Moule said she hopes to secure another grant for further study the next school year.

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Jean Moule, 541-737-3529