Theresa Overall
Associate Professor of Education
Chair, Division of Secondary Education and Community Health

Ph.D., University of North Texas
M.S., University of North Texas
A.B., Hollins College


“UMF students are great. Nearly half of our students are among the first in their family to go to college and they come with such passion for learning and such big ideals. They are so excited to be here,” Overall said. “To see the look on their faces when they succeed — that’s the best.”

University of Maine at Farmington Education majors will have the chance to work weekly with local middle school students as part of a volunteer program created by Overall and fellow Education faculty members. UMF students get hands-on experience mentoring seventh and eighth grade children.

“You can never get enough field experience,” Overall said. “Our students gain from every moment they are helping in the middle school.”

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UMF students, no matter their major, can participate in several mentoring and volunteer programs that help local schoolchildren, including Girls Talk, Kids Can and Teen Voices.

The Class that will Change Your Life

Overall teaches the second-year practicum course with her colleagues, Grace Ward and Beth Evans. Second-year students who meet the requirements can take the 12-credit course that will give them the opportunity to work in local middle and secondary schools, Overall said.

“We get you in the field right away. During practicum, you are in the field 18 full days with a mentor. It’s very concentrated,” Overall remarked. “On campus, you are learning curriculum instruction and assessment taught by Dr. Grace Ward, while I teach classroom management and how to integrate technology into the classroom. Then you get to go into the classroom and put the theory into action. It’s a powerful learning opportunity. Every student in middle and secondary education takes practicum.”

“I already know my practicum students from the introductory class, and it’s so exciting to see them grow even more. We call practicum the class that will change your life,” Overall said.

It Takes A Team of Teachers

Practicum can be challenging, observed Overall. Practicum students are designing lesson plans and for most of them it is a whole new perspective on education and preparation, she added. But the Education professors are there to help and assist their students.

That team approach is valuable for UMF practicum students who get to work one-on-one with three master teachers with three very distinct styles, according to Overall. “They might find one that they relate to better and use as a model. They can watch all three of us and how we react differently to situations,” Overall said.

Overall has used the team-teaching approach throughout her career, whether co-teaching the same class or sharing students in different courses or creating a shared curriculum for multiple classes. She hopes her approach is a positive model for future teachers. “Working collaboratively and cooperatively makes everything better; I teach all my classes in some type of team setting,” Overall said.

Working the Web

Computers in the classroom can be either powerful tools or distractions, Overall said. Her forte is teaching Education majors how to use technology to strengthen their students’ logical thinking and analytical reasoning. “The technology is not supposed to be the focus. It’s not about teaching computers; it’s about helping students learn math or science. It’s about using the technology to make history or English come alive,” Overall explained.

Overall models the use of education technology in her own classes. One of the first assignments she gives her Education majors is to participate in a WebQuest about the Meaningful Engaged Learning Model, which describes a classroom management theory.

Overall’s Education students learn how to create a WebQuest: a structured, teacher-guided, problem-solving student project. A WebQuest presents students with a real-life scenario that requires them to research, evaluate and apply specific knowledge. In the end, they create a final product that demonstrates what they learned.

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“They learn a lot about the Meaningful Engaged Learning Model, yet through it all, they learn a lot about using technology in the classroom,” Overall said. “Later on, they take one of the lessons they created in the curriculum class and turn it into a WebQuest for their students.”

Education Technology Innovator

Overall was part of a pioneering educational computing project as an elementary teacher at The Lamplighter School in Dallas. That school, in partnership with Texas Instruments and MIT, was the alpha test site for the first commercial version of the Logo computer programming language.

“If you look in books on the history of educational technology, most will say the computer revolution started in the 1980s. But in 1979, Lamplighter was the first elementary school in the world to have a computer in every classroom, and I was there,” Overall said. “I’ve been witness to almost the entire history of educational technology in the classroom. I’ve seen its power.”

Overall, who served as the faculty liaison to the MIT and Texas Instruments programming teams, said the computer project was the brainchild of Erik Jonsson, co-founder of Texas Instruments and Seymour Papert, MIT professor and creator of Logo.

“Seymour almost single-handedly steered us away from the teaching model of children sitting in front of a computer doing the same tasks over and over again until they reach a set goal. Instead of the computer teaching the children, he promoted having the children teach the computer. In that teaching process, children would learn mathematics, problem solving and logical thinking. They would be motivated to learn because they needed that knowledge to tell the computer what to do,” Overall said.

“Nobody ever asks, ‘When will I ever use this math’ when they’re programming in Logo because they are using it right then, and they’re using it in a meaningful way. Seymour’s quote ‘I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge’ could be the motto for today’s campaign for customized learning.”

“At the end of the first six weeks of the project, we were all better teachers for having had the computers in our classrooms. We were, for the first time in a long time, learning something new. We weren’t just learning more about something we already knew,” said Overall.

“As we learned to program the computer, we were clueless, and we rarely find ourselves in that position as adults. We had so much more empathy for our students. We understood how really frustrating and hard learning can be. We felt that amazing enthusiasm when you master something for the very first time,” Overall said.

Participating in the Logo project had a major impact on Overall’s career, and soon she was traveling across the country giving workshops on how to integrate learning and computers. She remains committed to the concept of student-centered learning.

“Teachers and computers don’t have all the answers. Teaching is about being ‘the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage,’” Overall said. “Facilitating good learning is not giving the answer when students ask the questions, it’s about asking more questions until they figure out the answers for themselves.”