Annual “Maemester” experience focuses on learning

May 26, 2023

Houston Bowen explains the importance of ecosystems to one of his students while on a visit to the zoo.

By Ward Mullens

The lessons are as diverse as the classrooms in which the Albion College teacher candidates present them. The topics involve poetry, plants, the Civil War, civic engagement, science and more.

Ultimately, learning is the outcome for both the elementary and high school students, as well as the Albion College student teaching candidates.

It’s known as “Maemester.”

“This has been my favorite experience at Albion,” said Eddie Cardew, a senior from Sagola in the Upper Peninsula. “When you take education classes at Albion you are exposed to so many things.”

Alura Reed, a junior English major from Oxford, said, “The best part is building relationships with the students and watching them become more confident and learning about the topic.”

Houston Bowen explains his student’s projects about ecosystems during the Showcase Learning Fair May 18. Bowen taught at Harrington Elementary School.

“On the last day of class, my students told me this had been the best science class they had,” said Bowen, a junior English major from Houston, Texas. “It was great seeing the students learning about the environment and helping them understand why it is important to take care of it.”

Maemester is the concluding month-long experience of a course called Boundary Crossings — geared toward teaching area elementary and secondary school students. Albion College students work with mentor teachers in area public schools and teach a unit themselves during the month of May. At the end of the month, they present their projects on Albion’s campus at the Maemester Showcase Learning Fair in the science complex atrium.

Mae Ola Dunklin, Nels Christensen and Alura Reed look over the works from Reed’s project related to women’s rights. Reed was a teacher candidate at Marshall High School.

Originally referred to as “Maymester,” Maemester has been so named in honor of Mae Ola Dunklin, College trustee, longtime Albion educator and former director of the Fritz Shurmur Center for Teacher Development, or FSCTD. The FSCTD has continuously supported this project for 17 years.

“The Maemester program provides an opportunity for Albion College teacher candidates to learn and grow as educators by supporting their K-12 students’ participation in experiential learning projects, activities and field trips,” said Suellyn Henke, chair of the Albion College Department of Education. “The teacher candidates then present that to the public at the showcase learning fair. They have an authentic experience and it provides a sense of accomplishment.”

Reed’s project, taught at Marshall High School, was “Civic Engagement to Build a Better Future: Honoring Voices of Significant Women.”

“I wanted students to learn about the women’s rights movement and see how it impacted real women in our community,” said Reed, who taught in Alayna Hager’s social studies class at Marshall. “We were able to share the experiences of real women in the community.”

The class got to ask questions of several community leaders, including Dunklin, local business owner Donisha Brewer, ’12, Shawna Gamble, who works for the city of Battle Creek, and Albion College Professor Nicolle Zellner.

Bowen’s project was titled “Get Grounded: Creating Ecosystem Models in an Integrated Science Unit.”

“My main goal was to help students understand what an ecosystem is and why they are so important,” said Bowen, who taught third graders at Harrington Elementary School. “They built their own mini-ecosystems and then had to take care of them so they could understand how important it is for us to take care of our environment.”

Albion College teacher candidate Eddier Cardew teaches his class about the civil war.

Cardew did his Maemester project with a group of eighth graders at Marshall Middle School as part of Megan Walters’ social studies classes.

Cardew’s teaching unit was “Interpreting Conflict: Investigating the American Civil War through Physical Roleplay and Artistry.”

“I had two goals,” Cardew said. “My main goal was to help them understand how people interpret conflict and look at the Civil War through different lenses. We did this through physical role play where students got to be Union soldiers and learn about how they lived.”

This interactive experience included students eating hardtack (food from the period made from flour, water and salt); signing their names with calligraphy pens used during the period; playing games soldiers would have played to pass the time, such as dominoes and checkers; and learning the basics of artillery.

Cardew said he got the artillery idea from a YouTube video that used a tennis ball can to launch a ball. He used PVC pipe to build the cannon to fire a ball.

“The kids were so engaged,” Cardew said. “Some of the kids who were not so engaged became extremely invested. Throughout the lesson, we referred back to their experiences and they remembered.”

The second part of Cardew’s lesson had the students use different forms of art to express what they had learned in the unit.

“The creativity of the students was phenomenal,” Cardew said. “They made comic books about it, designed big dioramas and did musical numbers. One student did a very stylized yearbook using people from the Civil War and explained what they did.”

Reed said: “It was great seeing them start to ask questions about things they had not thought of before.They were really coming out of their shells.”

As for Cardew, he said he learned a lot about teaching, as well.

“There is no such thing as being totally prepared,” he said. “You have to be able to go a different direction if something does not go as planned. That happened to me and I had to be flexible.”

Other Albion College students and their Maemester projects included:

  • James Bloomfield, Marshall Middle School, “Game Changers of the Past Paving the Way for our Future”
  • Ashley Booth, Walters Elementary, “Bundle Up With Poetry: A Social Emotional Learning Approach to Literature”
  • Madison Davis, Walters Elementary, “The Mythical Magical World of Plants: An Exploration of Lifecycle and Caretaking of Plants”
  • Isaiah May, Harrington Elementary, “Exploring Michigan Ecosystems Through Innovation, Inquiry and Literature”
  • Owen Miller, Harrington Elementary, “Thinking Like A Scientist: Using Our Senses for Observation and Inquiry”
  • Quinn Natschke, Walters Elementary, “Dear Opinion Pal – I like that our opinions matter because opinions make us unique”
  • Chance Persondek, Marshall Middle School, “Futuristic Problems Require Super Solutions: Understanding Storytelling with Comic Books”
  • Lindsey Walicki, Gordon Elementary, “Innovation and Imagination: Creating Futuristic Animal Models to Learn Science”
  • Byron Wilkinson, Marshall High School, “What is your Why? Discover your Passion, Purpose and Dream through Poetry.”

All three teacher candidates thanked their mentor teachers for letting them share their experiences with their classes.

“The support from the Education Department and the donors is what makes this such a great experience,” Cardew said. “You are given a budget of $500 to manage as you see fit. It would not have been possible without them.”

The Maemester projects are supported by the C. Robert, ’63, and Sara, ’64, Maxfield Endowed Teacher Enhancement Fund.

The Maemester education team consists of assistant professor Dr. Betty Okwako-Riekkola, Karen Hoaglin, FSCTD liaison, and Henke.