published Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Clif Cleaveland: Fixing math, science education

Clif Cleaveland

Public school programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) face two major problems: a severe shortage of qualified teachers and outdated curricula.

Four innovative programs, each the product of sustained hard work by educational and civic visionaries, address deficiencies in STEM education in our region.

UTeaChattanooga (www.utc.edu/UTeaChattanooga) is beginning its third year of operation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Modeled after a successful program in the education of STEM teachers at the University of Texas, UTeaCh recruits students who wish to major in a STEM area and prepare for a career in teaching in middle and high schools.

Students enjoy classroom teaching experiences from their first year forward under the supervision of master teachers on the UTC faculty and mentors in selected public schools. Their classroom encounters include supervised time in elementary, middle school, and high school.

They earn bachelor degrees in the STEM area of their choice and are prepared to be certified to teach upon graduation. The program has proved quite popular among students. Attractive job offers await them upon graduation. A large majority elect careers in teaching.

Chattanooga's Public Education Foundation (www.pefchattanooga.org) has two programs for graduates of STEM programs who at early or mid-career points wish to enter the teaching profession. Teach/Here prepares students for math and science positions in grades 7 through 12. Project Inspire is designed for grades 4 through 8.

Students spend four days each week working with a master teacher. The fifth day is spent either at UT-Knoxville for Teach/Here students or Tennessee Tech for Project Inspire students. Students earn masters degrees and teaching certificates at the conclusion of their year of residency.

Also centered at the Public Education Foundation is a STEM Initiative or hub that will evaluate most effective methods for STEM or problem-based learning.

Hamilton County's new STEM high school will be the centerpiece of the hub. The new institution will admit its first class of 75 freshmen this year to its Chattanooga State Community College campus.

The STEM high school will offer a full curriculum of humanities and science courses. Its STEM courses will develop the most effective methods and facilities for mastery of these disciplines. This information will, in turn, be transmitted to public schools in Hamilton County and its five adjacent counties. Think of the new school as an on-going learning laboratory, evaluating, fine-tuning, and finally transmitting what works best in STEM education to regional schools.

Thirty teachers from 15 schools in the hub-zone were designated "teaching fellows" in May. They will ensure that their home schools benefit from advances at the STEM school. Principles from K-12 schools in the hub-zone will attend workshops in the implementation of problem-based learning.

The four programs represent collaboration and financial support of foundations, public schools, institutions of higher learning, and businesses. Countless hours have been devoted to launch the initiatives.

Responses to my previous column on the sorry state of science and math education reflect frustration with the status quo and uncertainty regarding solutions. Creating a modern system of STEM education within our public schools will require more money than we current earmark.

Industry will compete for STEM graduates so salaries for teachers in public schools must be competitive. Schools must upgrade laboratory facilities to assure that all students have an opportunity for the STEM components of their education. Methods must be established to assure that students in primary grades are not turned off to mathematics which is a foundation for subsequent courses in science and technology.

The education of our young people is the best investment that we can make. I am grateful for dedicated optimists to this cause.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net.

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