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
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."
Creating or redesigning college courses by faculty members
at the eight participating institutions, to emphasize active learning and
engaging teaching practices.
Providing math and science majors with solid teaching
experience during their college careers, and encouraging them to enter
the teaching profession.
Improving introductory math and science courses, at
each of the college-level schools. This will provide generalists, such
as elementary school teachers, with a stronger math and science background.
Increasing the number of women and minorities preparing
to be math and science teachers by recruiting promising students to join
the teaching profession.
Offering support, in the form of mentors, to new science
and math teachers.
Presenting the project's findings at an international
conference hosted at UMass, during the final year of the grant.
Note: Morton Sternheim can be reached at 413/545-1908