Academic Exchange Quarterly     Summer   2006    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  10, Issue  2

To cite, use print source rather than  this on-line version which  may not  reflect print copy format requirements or   text lay-out and pagination.


A Search for Reciprocity: Service and Learning


Saundra L. Wetig, University of Nebraska at Omaha, NE

Sheryl McGlamery, University of Nebraska at Omaha, NE



McGlamery, Ph. D. and Wetig, Ed.D., are professors in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  McGlamery teaches elementary/secondary math and science methods and Wetig teaches elementary social studies methods.



As professors teaching science, math, and social studies methods we found ourselves at the end of each semester reflecting on our preservice teachers’ practicum experiences. As we reviewed the methodology of each course we determined the need to reassess the goals, ideas, and priorities regarding how to provide a quality teaching/learning experience for our candidates. We identified the missing link in our practicum experiences– reciprocity. We will describe our efforts of providing preservice teachers the opportunity to become involved in an academic service-learning practicum.



Why Service-Learning?  The need for an extensive field experience is well documented in the literature on learning to teach (Tang, 2004; Zeichner, 1990; Kagan, 1992; Furlong, Whitty, Barrett, Barton, and Miles, 1994; Eraut, 1994).  Among the many goals of teacher education programs, helping beginning teachers  to “..learn to select and construct curriculum that (1) represents and connects to their students’ lives and experiences; (2) allows students to develop habits of participation in a diverse community, beginning with the classroom itself; (3) supports academic, vocational, civic, and personal goals; and (4) supports equitable achievement” (Darling-Hammond et al. 2005,  p.173)  is best achieved in a field context.  Beginning teachers need the classroom context to help frame their visions of good teaching and appropriate pedagogy (Tang, 2004).


However, there are a number of problems facing teacher educators as they try and arrange field experiences for the pre-service teachers in their classes.  Science, math, and social studies are no exception.  Many teachers at the elementary level do not feel comfortable teaching the science, math, and social studies and are especially reluctant to have student teachers observing them teach.  Finding willing teacher participants who model appropriate pedagogy is also a challenge professors face in finding quality practicum experiences. Further, many favorable sites are not always able to accept the numbers of field placement requests presented.


Yet, even with all of the above constraints a group of dedicated teacher educators have tried to find a solution to the field experience dilemma through offering pre-service teachers at Urban University two academic service-learning projects.  The science and mathematics teacher educators developed “Lunch Bunch.”   This lunch time science and mathematics program allowed our pre-service teachers to teach science and math lessons to classes of children at several local elementary schools.  The social studies teacher educator developed a three-way partnership between university students, elementary students, and Junior Achievement (JA) Incorporated.


As we reassessed our goals, ideas, and priorities regarding how to provide a quality teaching and learning experience for our pre-service teachers we identified the missing link – reciprocity.  Our past practicum experiences served the purpose of engaging pre-service teachers in a teaching/learning experience that advanced their skills.  But, did it meet the needs of all stakeholders (elementary students, classroom teachers, and pre-service teacher candidates)? In our quest to redesign the practicum experiences to include service-learning we found that service-learning was more than just a program.  Jacoby (1996) noted that service-learning is also a philosophy and pedagogy.


While researching service-learning, we quickly recognized that the definition of service-learning varied considerably among those who embrace it.  Jacoby (1996) defined service-learning as follows:

Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in          activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.  Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of service-learning (p. 5).


Service learning pedagogies are used by instructors in higher education, as well as in K-12 schools to enhance traditional modes of learning.  Kendall (1990) noted that service-learning is a philosophy of “human growth and purpose, a social vision, an approach to community, and a way of knowing” (p.23).


Jacoby (1996) noted that it is through the element of reciprocity that service-learning elevates to the level of philosophy.  The service-learning experience should actively engage students in forming their own pedagogical schemata through experiential learning in a course-relevant context.  As pedagogy, service-learning is education grounded in experiential learning and includes structured time for students to reflect on the experience.


We based our service-learning project objectives on the criteria established for an academic service-learning course. As Howard (2001) noted in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning three criteria must be present before a course can be considered an academic service-learning course.  First and foremost, there must be service provided in the community that is relevant and meaningful to all stakeholders involved.  Second, the course must enhance student academic learning.  Lastly, it must directly and intentionally prepare students for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society. As we began redesigning our methods courses to include service-learning, we purposefully worked to include all three criteria in order for it to qualify as an academic service-learning course. 

Criteria 1:  Efforts to Establish a Relevant and Meaningful Service with the Community

Lunch Bunch Science and Junior Achievement Service-Learning and Learning to Teach  Teachers need the opportunity to practice teaching before student teaching begins.  In order to accommodate the needs of all concerned we have developed two cooperative school sites to provide teaching opportunities for our pre-service teachers and enrichment activities for the children in the schools we serve. 


The first cooperating school site (we will call the site Westend Elementary) serves an urban population of children from lower middle class to working class families.  The schools receives aid from Title I and Chapter I funds and more than 60% of the school’s population receives free or reduced lunch.  The current needs of the school revolve around science and mathematics learning, so they were enthusiastic to have 25 plus pre-service teachers in the school two days a week to provide additional instruction in science and mathematics.


The pre-service teachers who teach at Westend are given instructions for designing a learning center around a science or math content theme.  The pre-service teacher then designs and plans four science or math lessons to be taught in lunch bunch.  Each pre-service teacher then teaches one lesson per week, repeated four times per session.  There are usually two sessions of an hour and 15 minutes per week.


The second cooperating school site (we will call the site Northend Elementary) serves an urban population of children from middle to upper class families.  One of the school’s target goals for their elementary students is to increase student’s knowledge base in the area of economics.  Northend developed a partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) Incorporated during the fall of 2002.  Parent volunteers and community organizations had taught the economics-based lesson developed by Junior Achievement.  Due to lack of parental and community support the curriculum coordinator at Northend contacted the social studies methods professor at Urban University requesting assistance in presenting and teaching the materials provided by JA.  Urban University readily agreed to provide assistance to the students at Northend Elementary.


Since the spring of 2003, 173 elementary methods pre-service teachers have been engaged in this project that integrates social studies skills and content structured reflective activities. The service-learning project at Northend occurs over five consecutive Monday or Friday mornings in K-5 classrooms for 50 minute sessions.


Criteria 2: Enhancing Student Academic Learning

How Does It Work at Westend and Northend Elementary Schools?  Westend:  The service-learning project at Westend Elementary is supervised by an assistant Principal and one University professor of science or mathematics education (who also teach the methods block participating in the field).  Whole classes of children are brought to a central location such as an empty classroom or media center to participate in “Lunch Bunch Science and Mathematics”. Whole classes rotate through the learning centers set up and monitored by pre-service teachers.  The participating children from each class are broken into teams of three or four and they rotate through the learning centers together. Each class is given 30 minutes to engage in learning center activities. The participating schools usually schedule the Lunch Bunch around lunch periods, hence the name “Lunch Bunch”.


Northend:  The preservice teachers assigned to Northend are supervised by the curriculum coordinator and the elementary social studies methods professor.  The project utilizes curriculum materials from JA.  The Junior Achievement Elementary School Program includes six sequential themes from kindergarten through fifth grade and two capstone experiences.  Elementary students learn concepts and skills at each grade level that build on those taught in preceding grades. The Elementary School Program is designed to show students the relevance of education to the workplace as well as to prepare them for secondary school and lifelong learning.  The program focuses on problem, based, i.e., “real world,” interactive learning activities utilizing experiential learning (“Elementary,” 2006a).


Criteria 3:  Preparing Students for Active Civic Participation in a Diverse Democratic Society

Who Benefits and What is Learned in the Field?  Science/Math:  The children who participate in “Lunch Bunch” science and mathematics experience inquiry based science and mathematics keyed to math and science standards that are designed to enrich their current curriculum.  They are able to interact on many levels with new concepts, people and ideas.  The teachers whose classes participate have the opportunity to see a variety of science and mathematics topics presented in fun and inventive ways.  The teachers often request copies of lessons presented to use with other classes.  We are able to bring in new and exciting teaching centers over many topics. One teacher would have a hard time being able to reproduce the work of 25 pre-service teachers, as well as, all the equipment and materials.


The field experience provides the beginning science teachers the opportunity to plan and implement activity-based science and mathematics lessons every week.  The individual teacher is given the opportunity to teach each lesson four times with different groups of children.  The practice and repetition is useful in gaining skill and developing a sense of how best to structure a lesson.


Built into the field experience is a reflective journal entry required to be completed after each field experience.  The journal questions ask the pre-service teacher to reflect on the lessons they taught and discuss whether the lesson went as planned or needed to be revised and why.


Social Studies: As part of the JA project the pre-service students were required to engage in reflective activities regarding the economics lessons they had taught.  Over the course of the service-learning project university students engaged in de-briefing activities and whole group discussions following each lesson taught in the elementary school.  The class discussions were based on the following topics/prompts: (a) positive factors of the lesson;  (b) lesson areas that could have been strengthened; (c) personal thoughts regarding the lesson; and (d) lessons learned.  The team leader was required to keep a team portfolio that included individual team member reflections as well as a summative team reflection.  After each lesson individual team members were required to write an individual reflection based on the following questions: (A) Do you believe the lesson objective was met? (B) What were the positive factors that occurred throughout the lesson?  (C) What areas could have been strengthened in the lesson? and, (D) How has this project prepared elementary students for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society?


The JA Elementary School Program for second grade focuses on Our Community.  The five lessons in this program examine the responsibilities and opportunities available within a community (“Elementary,” 2006b).  During lesson four the elementary students were engaged in a lesson that required them to determine the best use for an empty store on the ‘How Does a Community Work?’ poster.  The students were led through a step-by-step decision-making process designed to assist them in understanding how group decisions are made.  The following comments are a representation of two teams’ responses to the following question:  “How has this project prepared elementary students for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society?” 


Team 1/Second Grade: The students engaged in a realistic voting process where they had to decide which business had to fill the empty space.  They based their decisions not only on their personal preference, but how it would benefit the community as well.  The lessons focus on how a community interacts and the roles and jobs people have to help form a community. 

The JA Elementary School Program for kindergarten focuses on Ourselves.  The five lessons in this program introduce the economic role of individuals (“Elementary,” 2006c).  Team 2’s collective team response to the question stated above:

Team 2/Kindergarten: This project prepared the elementary students by providing practical ways for them to be involved in the community.  The project also provided the students with a diverse multicultural outlook on the community of other children.  For example, a student took an idea from one of the stories from the JA curriculum about ways to earn money.  She went home and made bookmarks and sold them in her neighborhood.  She made $9.00 and told us she was going to save it to buy a house!  This is just one of the ideas that made students learn throughout this project.

ConclusionThrough the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders involved in the service-learning projects at Westend and Northend Elementary Schools projects, we believe the three criteria for an academic service-learning course were met through reciprocity.  Pre-service teachers and elementary students were engaged in lessons that were relevant and meaningful as well as in support of existing science, math, and social studies standards.  Upon the completion of the spring 2003 service-learning project each social studies team was asked to respond to the following question: “How has the service-learning project established a relevant and meaningful service within our community?”  Sample responses from three teams.

Team 1/First Grade:  The service-learning project was relevant and meaningful for our community because as future teachers it allowed us to interact with our future environment—an elementary classroom.  It was also relevant because it displayed volunteering to benefit others without costing the school anything.  We believe it is a positive influence on the student’s outlook on their educational future.


Team 2/First Grade: This project established relevance within our community and with the students by connecting material to real-world situations.  By having college students come into the classroom we served as higher education role models.  The project gave elementary students a chance to become more knowledgeable about economics and their place in a community.


Team 3/Second Grade:  This service-learning project helped introduce different types of jobs to the students.  They also learned the circulation of money.  By the end of the lessons they related the money unit back to the lesson on how the community pays taxes, which was a huge connection.  We thought our part was worthwhile as they were able to make connection across lessons.


Second, the math, science, and Junior Achievement lessons that were taught by the pre-service teachers both promoted and enhanced student academic learning.   Finally, through engagement in this service-learning project elementary and university students were involved in an activity that assisted in their preparation for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society.



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