Elizabeth Luciano

September 2, 1997

UMass Combines Efforts With Other Schools On Projects To Improve The Teaching Of Math And Science


Collaborative effort is funded by $5 million National Science Foundation grant

AMHERST, Mass. -- A project to improve math and science teaching from kindergarten through college -- led by a physics professor at the University of Massachusetts and that involves eight western Massachusetts colleges and a number of public schools -- has received a $5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant is one of just three such awards made across the nation by the NSF each year.
Participants include: the University of Massachusetts; Hampshire, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges; and Springfield Technical, Holyoke, and Greenfield community colleges. The project will also include public schools in Springfield, Amherst, Holyoke, Hadley, Northampton, South Hadley, and Franklin County. The Five College/Public School Partnership will coordinate the school-college connections. The project's main focus is helping teachers, and prospective teachers, to learn the most effective ways of teaching math and science, and is expected to have far-reaching effects, according to UMass physics professor Morton Sternheim, who heads up the effort under the auspices of STEMTEC (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Teacher Education Collaborative), a program linking the Five Colleges with area community colleges, and neighboring school districts. Sternheim says the program will involve more than 5,000 college undergraduates, 2,000 K-12 students, 80 college faculty members, and more than 200 K-12 teachers. Nearly 80 math and science courses will be created or modified, emphasizing student involvement. Enrollments in those courses will reach into the thousands each year."High on America's agenda is the need to improve the science and math education of its children," says Sternheim. Science is in greater demand than ever in the workplace, he says, and a host of careers, from biotechnology to computer engineering, are open to people who have a good grasp of science, math and technology. "To meet society's needs, we need to change the way we teach science," says Sternheim. "The idea is to have students actively learning in the classroom, rather than just sitting there. Students work in small groups and try to think things through. It's not the professor standing there lecturing, and then everybody goes home and does the homework."The project's multi-faceted objectives will include: In addition to establishing a more solid base in the sciences, Sternheim says, the new and revised college courses will teach students to communicate well and to work effectively in groups, mirroring the way business is done in the corporate and scientific communities. "Teachers will guide students in asking questions based on the students' own observations," he said. "Students will learn to design experiments, and collect and analyze data. Ultimately, we want students to understand that science is a process, a way to satisfy their curiosity about how the world works."


Note: Morton Sternheim can be reached at 413/545-1908 and mms@k12.oit.umass.edu