University of Houston-Downtown (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 596-601
ISBN: 978-84-613-2953-3
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
Service learning opportunities incorporate observing students, applying theory, evaluating courses and supporting emotional connections of pre-service teachers to the profession. Service learning connects students to settings and populations with whom they will work in the future. It allows for application of strategies in natural and non-threatening environments, as well as, provides experiences that will transfer to future teaching. It encourages positive mentoring relationships, purer observations and solidification of the desire to teach. Through authentic settings, pre-service teachers see their personal contribution make immediate impact with young children. Service in their related field provides opportunities to university students to contribute directly to their community in professional ways. It allows students to offer their time without the expectation of an assessment, but for the genuine desire to contribute to the field.

Research suggests that there is a connection between a student’s sense of self-esteem and the quality of relationships with the primary professionals in their life. Respect from faculty members, peers and community members enables pre-service teachers to value themselves and gain professional strength. The design and organization of experiences that enhance the emotional strength of university students is just as essential as lesson planning and classroom organization. The emotional benefits of service learning are heavily dependent on its organization at the university level, as well as the degree to which there are opportunities for the students to take part in planning, carrying out the work, and analyzing the experience. The emotional growth and professional connections made can greatly affect the students’ motivation and desire to teach.

Recently, a group of early childhood education students at a major university were given the opportunity to participate in the creation and building of a nature playscape for toddlers at an accredited center for the city’s homeless population. The call went out as a service opportunity to collaborate with the early care center’s teachers and director, the two early childhood education faculty members, a girl scout troop working toward their Silver Service Award, and community volunteers. University students did not receive a grade for their services. These experiences were owned and controlled by the university students.

Based on prior research and assessment and funded by an independent donor, two university faculty identified the need and service opportunity to design and build a new nature based playscape. Planning over a two month period was largely based upon the research of Rusty Keeler with natural playscapes. The service team focused on designing six areas of play for toddlers in their outdoor space. Attention was given to budget, aesthetics, and developmentally appropriate practice. The playscape was built over the course of several weekends with each organization contributing differently. The analysis of the nature playscape was completed by debriefing with the team. Interview and questionnaire techniques were utilized. Specific attention was given to the data regarding the emotional growth of pre-service teachers. The service collaboration solidified positive feelings of contribution to the field, while benefitting so many other facets of the educational system.
service learning, pre-service teachers, collaboration, emotional growth.