In response to the ever-changing world of technology and the way we educate our children, Thomas College has recently changed how its students are trained as teachers.
In the fall of 2015, Thomas College finished construction of the Center for Innovation in Education, a state-of-the-art classroom and co-working space designed to give students the ideal environment to learn and practice the skills required of tomorrow’s educators.
Backed by an investment from the Lunder Foundation, the Center for Innovation in Education will add programs, technology, and training methods with the specific goal of preparing teachers for technology-rich approaches.
The Center for Innovation in Education is re-envisioning teacher education that supports digital learning, STEAM, and proficiency- based learning in an adaptive environment that reflects a contemporary instructional approach.
Through the Center for Innovation in Education, Thomas College will help future teachers embed the certain practices into their classrooms once they enter the field.
By 2018, all Maine high schools must deliver a proficiency-based diploma. As a member of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, Thomas College is taking advanced measures to prepare its students for this new model of learning, which includes investing in tools and faculty to position future teachers for success.
As part of this focus on proficiency-based learning, Thomas has hired an Assistant Professor of Education, Katie Rybakova, with a specific concentration on proficiency-based learning as part of The Center for Innovation in Education.
“The goal of the proficiency-based model is equality in degree,” said Rybakova. “We want kids to graduate high school with a high school degree that means the same thing, whether you’re in one county or another county, whether you are in a rural school or an urban school, whether you are in one state or another state.”
Rybakova said this model includes learning expectations that are measurable, clearly communicated and are focused on standards, particularly common core state standards. She said there is an emphasis on the process, differentiated instruction, and student choice.
“I think today’s teacher needs to be extremely well-rounded: multi-disciplinary, knowledgeable of proficiency-based learning, 21st century literate,” she said. “I will provide that, as well as a hands-on, practical, and authentic education – all of which make learning both engaging and relevant, which I think are two really important terms when it comes to education at any level.”
In order to train teachers to be well-rounded and flexible, Thomas’s transition from STEAM embeds arts education and critical thinking into its curriculum in order to improve the national push towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. Included in the STEAM curriculum are courses that emphasize creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. Currently, no other college in Maine offers a STEAM-based model.
Kate Cook Whitt will start teaching in the fall at Thomas College as an Assistant Professor of Education with a focus on STEAM education.
Cook Whitt is excited to work with pre-service teachers, or education majors, at Thomas College to help them understand how to integrate these different content areas to make learning more meaningful, authentic, and engaging for their students.
“For example, when I sit down to plan a STEAM unit for a biology class – it’s thinking what goes into that unit to integrate humanities and integrate different sciences,” she said. “My job at Thomas will be to help teachers become educators who can weave together different content areas in order to support students as they solve problems and as they think critically.”
Cook Whitt is honored to be a part of The Center for Innovation in Education.
“What Thomas is doing is really incredible,” said Cook Whitt. “The goals and the mission of the Center for Innovation in Education is exactly in line with what I want to be doing and my thoughts about what education should look like and be like.”
Through the Center for Innovation and Education, Thomas plans to close the gap between the possibilities of technology-driven education and the practical application of those methods in the classroom. Thomas will also lead a push to bring national subject matter experts and thought leaders to Central Maine, where they can provide training and professional development to both future and practicing teachers.
By combining current technology, cutting-edge teacher practices, and dynamic classroom environments, the Center will be an agile and flexible leader in education.
In a knowledge-based, technology-driven economy, graduates who study at the Center for Innovation in Education will stand out as they enter the workforce.
“The Center is something that the students in Maine and the schools in Maine really need. And I think it is coming at the right time and in the right place — and it has the potential to impact learning for a lot of different students,” says Cook Whitt.
To learn more about Thomas College’s Center for Innovation in Education, visit thomas.edu/cie .
Note: This story was originally published in the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal’s “College Bound” excerpt on May 24, 2016.