Works and Days


"special education"

Elementary School Psychology: Maggie MacLean, Winter Shadow 2016

I participated in a two-day shadow with Moira Tofanelli, a school psychologist at two different public schools in Portland. As an art major completing a thesis that draws heavily from the field of psychology, I was excited to see where a career in psychology could take me in Portland. I will be graduating in May and I am thinking about what kind of job I would like in the near future, and teaching seems to be an obvious next step for me. It was a great exercise for me to think about what kind of school I want to be a part of and see how the public schools in Portland vary.

It was interesting for me to compare the two schools I visited, as they were very different in terms of philosophy and educational goals. In the developmental psychology class I am taking this spring, we have been focusing on different models of human development and the kinds of guidance and parenting strategies that support each model. The first school I visited, the Creative Science School, uses a constructivist educational perspective. Jean Piaget, a psychologist influential in the 1970s, is the best-known proponent of this philosophy. Constructivism values learning through experience and independent problem solving.  In general, Piaget viewed child development as a series of stages, and children as tiny scientists who learn about their world through experimentation and add new information to existing mental schemas.  In the classroom, a constructivist approach often manifests as lots of group work, experiential projects, and integration of different classroom subjects.

To me, Creative Science seems big and colorful and full of movement and the evidence of children. There are art projects all over the hallway walls, glitter-covered handprints, and photographs of the students. I had forgotten what it is like to be in an elementary school. Everything is kid sized and chaotic in the way things are when tiny humans spend six hours a day in an enclosed space.