UCI News

Curating curiosity

Science and math majors find creative support for themselves and their students through CalTeach program

by Eliza Partika, UCI | June 29, 2020
Curating curiosity
“Before this program, I thought teaching was just giving lessons. But it’s so much more than that,” says CalTeach UCI graduate Nathalie Mejia. UCI

The CalTeach Science and Mathematics Program at UCI aims to develop future K-12 math and science instructors who will bring a 21st century learning environment to their classrooms by teaching their students problem-solving and critical thinking skills using technology.

CalTeach UCI is one of nine such programs in the UC system, and the only program designed so students can receive their math or science degree and their teaching credential in four years. There have been 119 teachers credentialed through CalTeach UCI’s 4-year history. Ninety percent of these graduates are teaching today, with 70 percent of those graduates teaching in low-income communities.

CalTeach offers support from mentors and faculty to help students succeed, through reimbursements for gas, school supplies and lab equipment for classes. CalTeach students have to complete 500 teaching hours – five hours a week for the duration of each 10-week quarter they are in the program.

After coming to UCI from the Alliance Ouchi-O’Donovan 6-12 Complex, a public charter school in Los Angeles, Nathalie Mejia planned on attending medical school. Once she arrived at UCI, she fell in love with the biology education major, which prepares students to teach science. She decided to join the CalTeach program and fulfilled her teaching requirement with a 40-student 8th grade class at McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana.

CalTeach UCI graduate Amanda Dabbous

“We aren’t going back to the old ways where kids are just spoon-fed their information. We are preparing kids for college and beyond,” says CalTeach UCI graduate Amanda Dabbous.

Raised in Hemet, California to Syrian immigrant parents, Amanda Dabbous always had an affinity for math and was pursuing a career in engineering at the behest of her father. However, she was drawn to the idea of teaching her favorite subject. She received her bachelor’s in mathematics this year and completed her teaching requirement with 10th and 11th grade classes at Northwood High School in Irvine.

CalTeach employs the “5Es” instructional model – engagement, exploration, explanation elaboration and evaluation. In the classroom, Mejia and Dabbous helped students learn and discover using personal real-world observations and applications.

Mejia engaged her students by introducing a topic and then having them ask questions and share observations for two minutes. “Before this program, I thought teaching was just giving lessons,” she says, “but it’s so much more than that. It’s an equity and equality between myself and my students. From English-language learners to those on the autism spectrum, I apply literacy strategies to teach them how to communicate. The less talking I do, the more they do, which is better.”

Dabbous shared a similar approach to teaching – her students connected with math through real-life scenarios, in a way that is accessible to all. This is vastly different from how Dabbous was taught, by just memorizing equations. “With this new teaching style, I was concerned I was never going to get the lesson plan right,” she says. “But the students made it easy to forget the way I learned math and embrace how I wish I was taught. There are no worksheets, instead we play bingo. To teach congruent triangles, I used banking shots off the rails while playing pool as an example.”

As for the sudden transition to distance learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dabbous and Mejia have had to adapt their teaching methods to remotely instruct their students and meet teaching credential requirements. They have also had to make adjustments as distance learning students to continue earning their math and science degrees.

Dabbous feels the experiences she gained have prepared her to go back and teach in Hemet, with its student population representing diverse backgrounds. Mejia hopes to teach in her hometown, Los Angeles. She remembers a high school English teacher she had who cared for her students like a mother. She could talk to that teacher about anything she was going through, and she wants to be that same type of person for her students.

“We aren’t going back to the old ways where kids are just spoon-fed their information,” says Dabbous. “We are preparing kids for college and beyond.”