When Kaeo Lee was an undergraduate student majoring in math, he had the opportunity to help his fellow students through the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Learning Assistant (LA) Program. In this position, he worked with small groups of students to create an active learning environment which broke down the material covered by professors, transforming the traditional way of teaching and learning.
Lee was an LA for math classes from 2020 to 2022 and admits the biggest challenge arose when students insisted they couldn’t do math or were too afraid to ask for help.
“I didn’t want them to feel stressed about asking questions, so I would remind them that I was a student just like them—I just happened to like math and wanted to help my peers understand math too,” Lee said. “After gaining my peers’ trust, we were able to communicate better and they realized that they were more capable than they thought. It was so fulfilling to see them have their ‘aha’ moments when they finally understood complex concepts or answered a difficult problem by themselves.”
- Related UH News story: Learning Assistants at UH Mānoa mentoring math success, February 24, 2019
The LA program spans across nine different disciplines (math, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, computer science, natural environmental resource management, psychology and history). The program averages more than 90 LAs working every semester to boost confidence in students through peer-to-peer interactions and transforming the larger courses into smaller learning communities where students feel safe to learn and grow.
“The LA program has been making a significant impact on students’ course success,” said LA Program Director Tara O’Neill. “Not only are grades improving, but mindsets are shifting due to these valuable exchanges the students are having with their peers. In end of semester surveys, students describe the resources, feedback and care provided by the LAs they work with as being invaluable to their learning experience.”
Students interested in assisting their peers through the LA program can apply online. Faculty can submit course proposals if they would like to receive LA support in their classrooms.
Fostering future educators
Through the LA program, LAs are given the chance to explore teaching as a potential career choice. Due to his positive experience with the LA program, Lee was inspired and motivated to pursue education and teaching. He is now on his way to completing his MEdT and obtaining his license in secondary mathematics.
“As much as the students in the classroom were gaining new skills, so were the LAs—the students were helping me understand how it was like to teach in a classroom, and I realized how fulfilling this job is,” said Lee. “The LA program was so supportive, not just of the students in the classroom, but also of the LAs that were considering being educators. I owe it to the LA program for helping me pursue this career path and giving me the confidence to go for my MEdT and become a teacher.”
Lee encourages interested undergraduate students to apply for an LA position and explore the education career path while helping their peers—furthermore, he hopes that students that have LAs in their classroom utilize the resource and continue to build confidence in their abilities.