Third year student Emily Lewanowski-Breen shares her experience of the Science and Mathematics Education pathway in UCD.


The decision to go into teaching

One of the most common questions that I am asked as a Science and Maths Education student is “did you always know that you wanted to go into teaching?” and the answer is “no, I really didn’t”. In fact, when I first came to UCD, I didn’t even know what area of science I wanted to specialise in, let alone what career path I wanted to follow! The flexibility of the Common Entry Science course therefore really appealed to me as it allowed me to take a wide range of modules in first year to see where my interests lie. I did everything from Linear Algebra and Environmental Biology to Organic Chemistry and Astronomy despite the fact that I didn’t do physics or chemistry for the Leaving Cert!

However, it was the first year maths education module that made me realise that my passion lies in teaching. I always enjoyed maths in school and this module encouraged me to reflect on my own learning of maths whilst also providing me with insight into both teaching and research. I found the lectures really engaging and I loved the class discussions and activities (we even used mini whiteboards, clear dry erase paint and Lego!). Fortunately, this module is not just for those who are interested in continuing with the Education pathway. Many students, for example, took the module as a way of developing their communication and teamwork skills and some simply took it out of interest. In fact, I would highly recommend the module as it was a very different yet enjoyable way of learning. It definitely inspired me to continue with the Science and Maths Education pathway in second year and ultimately, I knew I would end up specialising in this stream because I would have been heartbroken if I decided otherwise (I’m not kidding!). So now here I am, a third year Biology and Maths Education student, on my way to become a post-primary teacher and I honestly think it is the best decision I ever made. Yes, teaching can be challenging at times but I find it nonetheless rewarding and I love the idea of being able to share my passion for biology and maths with post-primary students.

At the Whiteboard

At the Whiteboard

School placements and teaching experience

What I particularly love about my degree is that the undergraduate education modules not only introduce us to different concepts and theories related to teaching, but they also incorporate a number of placements which help to build our skills (and they are also a lot of fun!). During semester one of third year, for example, I was a peer tutor for a first year undergraduate maths module in UCD. Whilst this tutoring was mainly one-to-one, I often took a small group of students up to the whiteboard to explain a particular concept or to help them with their worksheet questions. This was actually my first experience of teaching maths, which I was initially quite nervous about, but it turned out to be really enjoyable! There was even a senior tutor in the classroom with me who answered any questions I had and my lecturer also provided me with a lot of tips and advice in advance of the tutorials- so there really was no need to worry! However, I will admit that it was challenging at times because I had to learn how to adapt myself to different situations, but that is what motivated me to improve my skills and I really enjoyed the experience.

Tutorial Preparation Notes

My Tutorial Preparation Notes

That semester, I also worked together with two of my classmates to design a maths lesson as part of a model of teacher collaboration known as Lesson Study. I really liked that we could be creative and design our own activities and worksheets for the students rather than using the textbook examples. Once we finished planning the lesson, we actually went to a school near UCD to teach it to a transition year class and it was amazing to see our first ever lesson come to life in the classroom! Not only did it make the project feel more meaningful but it was also a great learning experience because we could see what worked well and what we needed to change.

Injective Functions Matching Activity

Injective Functions Matching Activity

In the second semester of third year, we also have an eight week placement in a post-primary school, which consists of three classes a week. This placement is a great experience because not only do we get to help out in the classroom, but we also get the opportunity to teach our own lessons. It’s nice because we each have our own mentor teacher who is with us in the classroom at all times and they very kindly provide us with a lot of support and advice.

I really enjoyed each of these placements and experiences and love that they are incorporated into our undergraduate degree because it allows us to gradually build our skills and knowledge for teaching. My lecturers, Dr Maria Meehan and Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, are also really supportive and they are always there to answer our (many!!) questions. I also get on really well with my class (there are only seven of us) and we regularly meet up for coffee or go out for dinner which is nice. We even meet with the education students in the years above and below us to see how they are getting on so there really is a wonderful sense of community.


What other modules do I have?

Along with my education modules, I also have maths and biology modules which help to build my knowledge of these subjects for teaching. However, there is also the option to take physics, chemistry or applied maths instead of biology- it simply depends on your interests! I, for one, think it is great that we have a variety of modules because I really enjoy learning about different topics and I often get inspiration from these modules for my teaching. I particularly like the fact that our maths modules not only build on the topics we covered in school, but also introduce us to other areas of maths such a group theory and even the history of maths! The seven of us actually work together on our maths problem sheets (which usually involves a few coffees and hot chocolates too!) and the Maths Support Centre in UCD is a great resource for those trickier topics.

 

Our Study Group Essentials

Our Study Group Essentials

What advice would I give to students?

There is one door into the Common Entry Science course but 27 different routes you can take once inside so it really is okay if you don’t know what area you want to specialise in straight away – believe me, that’s normal! In fact, you will have plenty of time to make the decision. My advice would therefore be to try out a variety of different modules in first year and to do whatever interests you because that’s what makes university so enjoyable. Also, if you think you may be interested in teaching or research in education, or if you are just curious to see what it is like, then I would definitely recommend Introduction to Maths Pedagogy. I mean look at me- I took the module out of interest and now here I am!

 

To sum it all up

The Science and Mathematics Education degree has already provided me with so many amazing experiences and opportunities and has really motivated me to reach my full potential as a beginning teacher of maths and biology. Not only have my skills greatly developed over the past few years, but I have also gained a lot more confidence in myself and made some amazing friends! I definitely look forward to pursuing a career in this field but, in the meantime, I am simply enjoying every minute of my time in UCD.

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