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UA students teach at camp for Tuscaloosa kids

Jeremy Connor

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Waking up at 5 a.m. in the middle of the summer is difficult at any age, though experienced teachers may find it an easier task than their undergraduate counterparts.

For the past 38 years, graduate students and undergraduates alike have taken part in a 3-week-long summer teaching camp. The teachers at the camp are all UA education students and use the camp as an opportunity to hone their skills as teachers while providing an interesting catalog of courses for gifted students in the Tuscaloosa area.

Shanna Akery, a graduate student in the gifted and talented master’s program, taught a course on game creation.

“First we explored different games and different genres of games, we talked about the aspects that made them successful, and the aspects that made them fun,” Akery said.

By the end of the class, her students had all created their own original game.

“We were given an opportunity to teach in a way that we aren’t normally able to teach,” Akery said. “It was based around creativity and fun learning experiences that we don’t typically get to do in a regular classroom in a regular school year.”

Anna Bryant, a graduate student in gifted education, also taught at the camp. The subject she chose to teach was storytelling.

“I loved being able to see the students’ imaginations soar,” Bryant said. “It was also neat to plan lessons to help them to think creatively and critically.”

There is a large age range between the teachers in the camp. Jane Newman, associate professor of gifted and talented education, said participants range from undergraduates working in the multiple abilities program and special education, all the way to graduate students returning to school after working as teachers for several years.

“We have a lot of adults who participate in the program,” Newman said. “Most of the master’s students are veteran teachers coming back after teaching for a while. They have families, husbands and houses, so it’s quite a shock for them to come to campus, but once they get there they love it.”

Newman said that plenty of preparation goes into making sure the teachers are ready to teach their course.

“We work on a unit in a methods course and they find a topic that they are passionate about and I teach them how to write concept-based units,” Newman said. “We work on it through several courses, fine-tuning it. They have to know how to present it to a low age student, as well as to an older age student, because they get certified K-12, so they have to have the experience presenting to a younger group and an older group.”

The camp has been held at Matthews Elementary School in Northport for five years now, but before that it has taken place in various locations, including University Place Elementary. Newman said that the camp doesn’t necessarily plan to expand. Its size is determined by the number of graduate students they have during the year that it takes place. 

In the past they have had around 12 graduate students, while this year they had 19. There are roughly 250 children in attendance, and each gets to design his or her own course-load of the 19 “mini-courses” offered. These courses are similar to interim courses at the University, in that they are shorter in duration, but class times are longer and more intensive than classes during regular sessions.

“They put a blurb out on the application and the students choose which mini-courses they want to attend. They can select two,” Newman said. Classes range from Shakespeare to chemistry.

“Science courses are very popular, so we have about 40 percent science courses,” Newman said.

The camp ran from June 8 until June 26, including students ranging from kindergarteners to 8th graders. Classes occurred 5 days per week from 8 a.m. to noon. 

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UA students teach at camp for Tuscaloosa kids