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Learning while teaching


Hannah McMahon assists a fourth grade student with a math problem


At first glance, Mrs. Larson's classroom at Forest Lake Elementary looks like any other fourth-grade class. The students are working on long division problems, raising their hands, eager to learn and participating in the lesson. The only difference is, their lesson is being taught by a high school student, Hannah McMahon, who has been helping in this fourth-grade class since before the current quarter began.


As a senior at Forest Lake Area High School (FLAHS), Hannah's role in the fourth-grade classroom is an experience learning opportunity provided through her Exploring Childhood class, taught by Cheryl Smoczyk. The Exploring Childhood class, combined with its prerequisite Child Psychology class, is a college-level course taught at FLAHS in partnership with Pine Technical and Community College. Upon successful completion of these two courses, Hannah and her classmates will earn three college-level, transferable credits to use toward a future degree.


Carly Niehart helps a grade school student with a question.


According to Smoczyk, most of the students who choose to take her classes have an interest in pursuing a teaching degree after high school. The Child Psychology and Exploring Childhood classes offer the opportunity for her students to try out the career, learn valuable skills and get a head-start on their college education.


The coursework and expectations are high. Hannah and her classmates do not simply walk into a classroom and help out where they can. By the time they are finished with the course, the students will have completed assignments in lesson planning and implementation, teaching the academic content and providing structured activities to help their students practice their new skills. And they do all of this while managing a classroom full of energetic elementary school students.


The class provides a variety of teaching experiences that reflect the variety of ways children learn. High school students work with their assigned elementary classroom three days each week. Some days they work with an entire class and other days they work with individual students or small groups, either giving additional help to those who need it, or providing additional challenge for more advanced students.


After spending time in the classroom and observing first-hand the challenges associated with teaching, the students finish their coursework with a research paper on an educational issue of their choice. Students come out of the class not only with a better idea about whether or not teaching is the right career path for them, but they also have a head start on their college education with credits that will be available on their transcript no matter which field of study they eventually choose to pursue. 


Ashley Bohn works on math concepts with a small group of grade school students.