Approximating the Practice of Teaching in Mursion’s Simulated Classroom

Approximating the Practice of Teaching in Mursion’s Simulated Classroom

Dawn Woods, Oakland University,

Photo Credit: James Silvestri


A primary learning goal across our teacher preparation program is to engage pre-service teachers (PSTs) in enacting justice-oriented teaching practices within increasingly comprehensive acts of teaching. In order to do this work, we purposefully design practice-based learning experiences where PSTs can learn to manage content, instructional practices, and equity issues by organizing this work around high-leverage practices (e.g., explaining and modeling content; eliciting and interpreting student thinking; orienting students to one another and content; leading a group discussion) (Ball & Forzani, 2009). High-leverage practices are not intended to be standalone know-how (Grossman, 2018), but offer guidance on how to navigate the complexities of the classroom since they are responsive to context (Kloser, 2014). We realize that these practices have the potential to oversimplify the complexity of teaching and may peripheralize equity and justice (Philip et al., 2018), so we intentionally foreground the political and humanizing dimensions of teaching and learning in order to work toward equitable practice that positively impacts classroom culture (Barton et al., 2020; Davis & Schaeffer, 2019).

Mursion Simulated Classrooms to Approximate the Work of Teaching

In order for our PSTs to apply their growing knowledge about teaching, we’ve designed Mursion simulations (from here, simulations) where they can approximate the work of teaching. During these simulations, PSTs are immersed in a virtual classroom with avatar-students and feel that they have a meaningful impact on their learning (Biocca et al., 2003; Hayes et al., 2013). Further, simulations provide PSTs with the opportunity to rehearse what they are learning, reflect on it afterward, and rehearse the skill again (Dieker et al., 2014). In sum, as PSTs interact with the avatar-students, they have the opportunity to hone high-leverage practices (e.g., Howell & Mikeska, 2021).

Using Number Talks During Simulations

In our mathematics methods courses we use number talks (c.f., Lee et al. 2018; Woods, 2020) as an instructional activity to support PSTs in learning how to teach mathematics in ways that honor students’ sensemaking. Number talks are short discussions around purposefully constructed mathematics problems that encourage students to solve and then talk about their strategies (Parrish, 2010/2014). Before each simulation, PSTs investigate number talks through an intentionally planned learning cycle (McDonald et al., 2013) where they participate in number talks as students, examine video exemplars, investigate student sensemaking around the mathematical concept, and then plan the number talk with a small group of their colleagues. During the simulation, PSTs not only enact a number talk with avatar-students, but also observe their colleagues to continue learning focusing on supporting rights of learners (Kalinec-Craig, 2017), rough-draft thinking (Jansen, 2020) and/or specific HLPs. After each simulation, PSTs debrief with the instructor, then analyze and reflect on the video of their number talks.

What We are Noticing About PST Learning

Through this experience we are noticing that simulations are providing unique opportunities for our PSTs to investigate and make sense of the work of teaching. Particularly salient is that the simulations become shared experiences that open up conversations about teaching and learning. Sometimes these conversations are during teacher timeouts (Gibbons et al., 2017) where the PST pauses the simulation to interact with the instructor and colleagues to determine how to respond to a students’ thinking or behavior. Often, these conversations occur during the debrief or in planning the next cycle of number talks as PSTs consider ways to support the avatar-students in enacting their rights as a learner, elicit and interpret student thinking, or the kinds of questions they could pose to press students to share their mathematical reasoning.

In sum, simulations are a way to approximate the work of teaching without placing real students at risk during the learning process (Dieker et al., 2014). This platform provides PSTs the ability to interact with the avatar-students in a way that recognizes the relational work of teaching since PSTs temporarily accept the avatar-students as a real class of students (e.g., Hayes et al., 2013). Because of the low-risk, life-like experience, simulations provide our PSTs with a space for to rehearse, open up their instructional decisions, and critically reflect on teaching and learning.

For more information on our simulation work at Oakland University see Connect Magazine.



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