Alternative Field Experience creates unexpected opportunity for teacher candidate

May 25, 2020

Colin Pierce

Sometimes the best laid plans are set aside to deal with a new reality.

Teacher candidate Colin Pierce was gearing up for the Alternative Field Experience (AFE) - his last assignment before graduating - as an educational assistant at Blyth Academy.

However, COVID-19 changed his plans.

Like schools throughout Ontario, the academy moved to online learning during the pandemic. As a result, Pierce's responsibilities also shifted when he jumped into online learning. He built an introductory business course, developed resources, projects, assignments as well as evaluation and assessment forms for the course.

"My entire AFE was flipped upside down due to this pandemic," said Pierce. "My principal and I really learned to roll with the punches to best adapt to the circumstances. It ended up working out well, and I learned so much from this experience."

While Blyth Academy moved to a virtual classroom, Principal Lorie Guest explained academic timetables were still followed and classes met using Zoom. Students continued their lessons, saw their friends and teachers while they learned. The move to online learning was successful as students completed all their course and curriculum requirements for the school year.

"It was an unusual time to be a student teacher, but Colin adapted to our new reality quickly. He was astute enough to know that his presence in a virtual classroom might be disconcerting for the students while they adjusted to their new reality," said Guest. "In this environment, he created innovative lessons that were taught virtually."

One innovative lesson Pierce brought to his students was an online game that taught business skills. He modified code to simulate a real-world market. As part of the game, students chose a team name and competed against each other by choosing a price for their product to sell. Depending on how their price compared to competitors, they either gained or lost money. Players also have multiple rounds to find new pricing strategies to win market share from their classmates.

"This activity helped me develop my coding skills and allowed me to think about new ways of keeping students engaged in an online environment," said Pierce.

Pierce also found there were challenges with online instruction. First, he determined whether his lesson plan could be done online. Then, he thought about whether there would be complications in a virtual lesson and how it could be tested before it was sent to students. Finally, figuring out classroom management in an online environment was an additional factor he had to consider.

"It's so easy for students to zone out during an online class," said Pierce. "When lesson planning, it's important to keep that in mind and find multiple ways to keep students engaged each day."

Western Education established the AFE to help their teacher candidates stand out from the competition. It increases teacher candidates' marketability because they showcase their skills. They also get hands-on experience with job applications because they apply to organizations for their placement. Teacher candidates also develop networking skills and it shows them that education touches many areas.

"We participated in the AFE because student teachers add such a great element to the school," said Guest. "They are young, eager and willing to help out in any way. The AFE also allows student teachers to see how our private school works."

While COVID-19 changed Pierce's AFE plans, it also prepared him for the future.

"Even when this pandemic is over, I believe these online skills I've learned will be versatile and key to becoming a twenty-first century teacher."

Try this activity Colin Pierce created for his business class.

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