PROPOSAL OVERVIEW

High on the American agenda is the need to improve the science and mathematics education of all its children. STEMTEC, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Teacher Education Collaborative, draws on diverse educational institutions committed to providing the next generation of science and mathematics teachers with the knowledge and skills they need. These institutions are also committed to bringing under-represented groups into science and math teaching. They are located in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts. A microcosm of contemporary America, this region has prosperous suburbs, but the cities have large numbers of low income minority students, and the rural areas and old mill towns have many poor children. Thus STEMTEC will have a superb laboratory for testing new educational approaches.

STEMTEC will link the members of the highly successful Five Colleges, Incorporated consortium - the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) and Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges - with three neighboring community colleges, Springfield Technical (STCC), Holyoke (HCC), and Greenfield (GCC) and the neighboring school districts. These are the school systems of Springfield, Holyoke, Amherst, Hadley, Northampton, South Hadley, and Franklin County. The partnership of a region's flagship public university campus, private colleges, community colleges and school districts with highly varied populations will provide a model with national implications. The State Department of Education, including PALMS, the Massachusetts NSF/SSI program, will be a participating agency. The Continental Cablevision Corporation will be a corporate partner providing Internet access to area schools and assisting with the dissemination program.

A major component of STEMTEC will be the support of discipline-based curriculum teams which will develop new and revised college science and math courses. In addition to college faculty, these teams will include K12 teachers and education professors who are experts in the new pedagogy. Because most teachers teach the way they were taught (Shymansky, Hedges, and Woodworth, 1990), these courses will model the most effective teaching strategies and tools: cooperative learning, investigation-based teaching, educational technology, new assessment techniques, and opportunities to teach (NCTM, 1991; NRC, 1996; AAAS, 1993). Since the best way to understand the nature of science is to actually do real science, we will offer all undergraduates the opportunity to conduct original research. STEMTEC will use these established teaching strategies to reform the way we teach science and mathematics to future teachers.

STEMTEC will serve both elementary and secondary teachers. Elementary teachers usually identify themselves early in their college experience and are generally not planning to major in mathematics or science. Since they will only be taking a few courses in these fields, these courses must provide them with strong content, an opportunity to engage in scientific research, and exemplify the best possible teaching. Math and science majors who already plan to enter teaching as elementary specialists or as middle school or high school teachers also need courses in their major which consciously exemplify effective teaching.

However, many secondary science and math teachers do not decide on teaching careers until college graduation or later. Dramatically improving introductory courses for science and math majors will help to retain them in those areas. It will also interest them in teaching careers because they will become excited about science and math and about learning (Tobias, 1990). We will also offer opportunities for college majors in science, mathematics, engineering, and related areas to gain an exposure to teaching by working with teachers who are graduates of our teacher enhancement projects and to consider teaching as a career option. Both the courses and the teaching opportunities will help recruit under-represented groups into teaching. Inclusion of the community colleges in all aspects of this project will also be critical in these recruiting efforts.

We cannot end our support of students when they enter teaching since we know that many excellent math and science teachers are lost to the field during those first few years. STEMTEC will offer a number of support systems for new teachers including bringing them into the community of school and college faculty developing new courses, linking them with our teacher enhancement graduates, and offering them appropriately scheduled courses which are taught using the methods supported by this project.

The STEMTEC program will include strong student learning assessment, project evaluation, and dissemination components. Much of the program will be exportable, making it an important national model.

Sustainability of the program after the NSF grant ends will be a critical issue. One key is meeting the needs of the participating institutions; what works at one college may not at another. Another is changing the campus culture and extending the process of reform. This will be accomplished by an aggressive program of internal dissemination. Faculty participants will offer departmental seminars and workshops on their course developments and on the pedagogical approaches. Their success in creating more effective courses will encourage their colleagues to attempt their own reforms. STEMTEC will sponsor larger campus-wide and multicampus programs to publicize the course changes, the student responses, and the underlying pedagogical principles and will work with existing campus staff development programs to offer training workshops.

The STEMTEC participants have a long history of collaboration. Over 30 years ago Five Colleges Incorporated, was formed to promote joint activities among the colleges' faculty and students. For example, students may take courses on other campuses as readily as on their own, and free buses make commuting easy. Community college students can automatically continue their education at UMass upon satisfactory completion of their two year programs, and many community college courses mirror the UMass equivalents. Also, since 1984 the Five College/Public School Partnership (Appendix I) has fostered working relationships among K12 schools and the five colleges. With the aid of several NSF, Eisenhower, and other grants, the Partnership and the campuses have made major strides in improving K12 science and mathematics teaching in the region, emphasizing constructivism, active learning, and alternative assessment methods.

STEMTEC's efforts to improve preservice teacher preparation depend critically on its collaboration with the school districts of the region. This region includes the cities of Springfield and Holyoke, where the school population is 70% minority and over 70% below the poverty level. Franklin County, located in the northern part of the region, is the poorest rural county in the state, with 22% of the students below the poverty line. Amherst, the home of UMass and of Amherst and Hampshire Colleges, has 50% minority students and 25% below the poverty level (Appendix II). Thus the undergraduates who avail themselves of the teaching opportunities will be able to experience many of the difficult issues facing schools across the country.

The program will be facilitated by the existence of a pool of K12 teachers trained in earlier projects who will be a part of STEMTEC, and by the UMassK12 Internet service (Appendix III) which links 2000 classrooms. UMassK12 will continue to be reached initially via modems, with local telephone access available in all the districts. However, over the next few years, Continental Cablevision will phase in free high speed Internet access for all the schools in its service areas, providing a major increase in convenience and bandwidth as the schools install networks.

STEMTEC will be managed by the UMass Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Institute (Appendix IV) and by the Partnership, and directed by a Board which includes representatives of the school districts and higher education partners. The program will be coordinated with the systemic curriculum reform efforts being undertaken in the state under its educational reform legislation and by PALMS; STEM is a PALMS higher education partner, and the Partnership is a PALMS Regional Provider.

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Created June 2000
Author: STEMTEC Webmaster