by Jack Barger ‘01
Everyone knows that two (or three, or four) heads are better than one. Collaborative activity and discussion often lead to perspectives that would not have been considered had just one person been putting the thoughts together. The same idea holds true for education, and if anyone knows the value of working together, it’s Mary Munger, Ph.D., assistant professor of education at University of Findlay. Over her time at UF, she has collaborated on a number of educational activities that, according to her and all who take part, are instrumental in forming young lives, both for the students who are under her guidance, and the children who get to reap the benefits.
Munger, whose particular academic area of interest is literacy, also clearly has more than a passing interest in her own students and the kids that they will one day teach. In fact, one could call it a passion. This can be seen in the very first project that she collaborated on, which involved creating activities for the Children’s Museum of Findlay. The idea behind the endeavor was to partner with the Children’s Museum to gain some experience with planning for and implementing instruction in an early childhood setting. Munger worked first with Julie McIntosh, Ed.D. dean and professor for the College of Education at UF. “Dean McIntosh and I worked on creating a space in the museum that would allow children to ‘play school,’” Munger said. “The College of Education stocked the space with supplies and equipment for kids to pretend they were in school just like the big kids.”
But the collaboration on that particular project didn’t end with McIntosh. Both Munger’s husband, an architect who designed a miniature schoolhouse for the children to play in, and the museum’s executive director, Linnea DiBerardino, did their part to help. “I asked Linnea if my students could create activities for their child visitors to do when they come to play,” Munger explained. “She was wonderfully supportive and allowed the students to come in once a month to utilize the activities they had created. It was a great experience for both the UF students and the visitors.”
Mary Munger, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of Education
University of Toledo – Doctor of Philosophy; Indiana University – Master of Science in Education; The Ohio State University – Bachelor of Science
One of the beliefs that UF and its faculty share and extol proudly is that students learn best by doing. Experiential or hands-on learning is the opportunity for students to learn by getting involved, and Findlay is known for its ability to get its faculty and students on the same page regarding this method. It’s no different for Munger, who has seen plenty of opportunities for her students to get involved in experiential collaboration, and understands the value in such activities. “As educators,” she said, “we know that preparing teachers in contextualized settings is preferable to preparing them away from what we call ‘the field.’ Teacher candidates need to witness pedagogical practices in action.” These opportunities allow for the students to get out and into the local schools and interact with children directly–precisely as they will once they have a career as a teacher.
These opportunities come in many forms, such as partnering with Hancock Literacy to volunteer for Literacy Nights, and having education students serve as “Book Buddies” at a local primary school. The former, Munger said, first happened as a result of the collaboration with the Children’s Museum having gone so well. “Crystal Weitz, from UF’s Office of Service and Community Engagement, connected me with Shannon Anderson, the Director of Hancock Literacy,” Munger explained. “She agreed to let my students volunteer.” At these functions, Munger’s students guide community visitors through literacy-related activities as they visit different stations throughout the evening. Munger said that students get valuable experience witnessing the differences in literacy-related skill sets among the children.
Munger understands and supports the wide belief in the benefits of reading to children as well. While this automatically creates a collaboration of sorts, it was the librarian at Jacobs Primary School, Carol Wells, who worked with Munger by extending the invitation to have students come in and read to kids for the Book Buddy events. “We discuss the importance of reading to kids at length in certain classes,” Munger said. “It’s not mandatory, but students have been encouraged to volunteer their time for it.” One student, Munger said, even enlisted her other friends and sorority members to join in.
It’s difficult, however, to think of a better way for Munger’s students to learn from experience than actually having class in the exact setting in which they’ll eventually find themselves teaching. In Munger’s Education 325 Emergent Literacy course, her students get to do just that. In what Munger calls a “win-win,” she teaches the course by splitting time between two schools–the first half of the semester at Washington Preschool; the second at Jacobs–and her students will then observe direct connections between what is discussed in their lectures and what they can actually see happening in the classrooms they visit. “My students will be able to see very young children learning to read and write as well as older kids who are becoming more proficient with these skills,” Munger explained. “While they are with students, they are engaging in small group activities, some created by UF students, to help the children strengthen their language skills. The teachers are also getting the much-needed help they need since more adults are in the room to work with the little ones.”
Through the many types of collaboration available to them through Munger’s classes, students are able to see their potential meaningful lives and productive careers before they even graduate. Munger sees this as a benefit for more than just the students. “All of these collaborations have been beneficial for both parties and have strengthened the community by supporting and contributing in a positive way to the development of its youth,” she said. “We’ve learned to navigate unexpected bumps in the road, to be flexible, and to strive for continuous improvement, all of which are important life skills.”