Excerpts From the First Report of the NSF National Visiting Committee on STEMTEC

Introduction: On November 21-22, 1997, the STEMTEC National Visiting Committee convened at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to review the program's activities. Members present were: Audrey Champagne (SUNY Albany), Julia Cothron (Mathematics and Science Center, Richmond, VA), Paul Irish (Champlain Valley Union H.S., Shelburne, VT), Arnold Ostebee (St. Olaf College), Barbara Tewksbury (Hamilton College), Leo Hickey (Yale University), John Layman (Univ. of Maryland). Terry Woodin also attended as the representative from NSF.

STEMTEC's stated mission is "to improve the preparation of preservice teachers, increase interest among undergraduate science and mathematics majors in the teaching professions, and improve the educational effectiveness of science and math courses--in short, to improve the undergraduate curriculum in science, mathematics, and engineering in support of K- 12 education." … This report will focus on STEMTEC's progress in implementing the seven stated goals of the project as well as difficulties or problems in doing so….

Goal #2: Redesign the science and math curricula on the campuses of the Collaborative to incorporate new pedagogies, and establish mechanisms for supporting faculty in their course redesign. STEMTEC has begun to implement this goal though its Cycle I grants to faculty for course design, the STEMTEC 1997 Summer Institute, and the initiation of monthly roundtable gatherings of college faculty in the program. In general, the Committee was positive about these goals and the progress made thus far in implementing them. One of the clear themes running through discussions with the STEMTEC participants was the strong sense of the shared responsibility for learning that imbues the program. A number of faculty and student teachers who were interviewed said that the approaches used in the STEMTEC program have changed their views on how teaching and learning are accomplished.

The NVC does feel that, up until now, the main emphasis in achieving this goal has been on the design or redesign of individual courses, rather than in overall curriculum design. In our reading of STEMTEC materials and discussions with participants, little or no sense of the overall content of the program as yet seems to have been addressed. No doubt an overall curricular framework will begin to emerge as more and more courses are reformulated, and the NVC would encourage STEMTEC to direct more of its attention to this concern as the program is implemented.

Only a portion of the curriculum changes that STEMTEC tries will last, while others will be dropped because they will not be fruitful or worth the effort. It is important, therefore, that mechanisms be in place for sustaining the faculty through difficult changes and for encouraging continued faculty growth. STEMTEC has thoughtfully provided many such mechanisms, but some improvements are possible, as, for example, having clearer expectations for professors who are participating in the focus and discussion groups and in the formative evaluation sessions. …Other strategies might be to encourage pairs or teams of professors to share in the redesign of courses or to develop an explicit self-assessment process so that faculty who are experimenting with new student-centered techniques can determine if they are applying the techniques correctly…. It was not clear to the NVC that, in fact, faculty members engaged in the course redesign process had been exposed in any systematic way to the principles of educational course design. … Thus far, the faculty participants in STEMTEC seem to have been exposed to a number of innovative techniques for improving learning in the sciences and mathematics without any systematic knowledge of the appropriateness of a technique for a given situation or about the effectiveness of the technique. The faculty needs to set goals for their courses and then examine how new instructional methods help to achieve these goals….

Goal #3: Improve the preparation of future K-12 teachers of mathematics and science. The processes identified by STEMTEC's strategic plan include the improvement of the college-level science and mathematics courses, improving the educational technology backgrounds of future teachers, and encouraging future teachers to major in science and mathematics. These approaches, and especially the institution of a revised "Science Major" at the University of Massachusetts, are well considered means toward addressing at least a portion of this goal…. Course design has been integrally linked to K-12 teacher preparation by including both college and K-12 faculty members on the disciplinary teams that redesign the courses. An additional benefit of this team approach that emerged in participant comments to the NVC is that it reduced stress on the teachers as they developed the new methods of teaching.

On the other hand, it was the strong impression of the NVC that the principal administrative focus of the project may indeed be on the redesign of undergraduate science and mathematics courses, thus making STEMTEC more a science and mathematics faculty development project than a teacher enhancement project. Teacher preparation is an extended process with many components including recruitment, providing students with school and K12 teacher student experience, retention of science and math majors in education programs, teacher and K-12 centered curriculum development, evaluation, and teacher support programs….

Goal #4: Recruit and retain promising students into the teaching profession, with special attention to underrepresented groups. With regard to the achievement of the overall goal, the STEMTEC organizers provided us with examples of individual initiatives such as the reduction of the credit requirements for the Science Major at UMass, a new course in science and math teaching there, and the provision of scholarships for students interested in science education that were aimed specifically at teacher recruitment. Nevertheless, it was the NVC's impression that no organized, programmatic effort has yet been made to recruit future teachers from college courses.

A special focus of this recruitment goal is to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities preparing to be science and mathematics teachers…. Based on its examination to date, the NVC saw little evidence that STEMTEC has a proactive outreach program to recruit minorities into science and mathematics teaching. The NVC therefore recommends that the STEMTEC principal investigators develop a comprehensive plan that addresses this critical issue.

Exposing science, math, and engineering majors to teaching experiences is a critical component in improving the preparation of science and mathematics teachers. Doing this will get more highly capable science and mathematics majors into teaching careers, and it will also allow more K-12 students to see scientists and mathematicians at work, thus generating more interest in those fields. There are many mechanisms for getting those college students to interact with K-12 students. Some are listed in the strategic plan (pp. 23-24), and others were mentioned by Morton Sternheim in his e-mail of 26 November 1997. In addition the NVC suggests a number of others for consideration by the STEMTEC principal investigators: 1) Encourage professors to provide options or requirements within classes to enable or to encourage students to select a K-12 experience, such as projects, a lab option, a science advocacy assignment, or an intersession course. 2) Encourage professors to model teaching as a valuable experience in the everyday work of their courses. 3) Systematize connections between college professors and K-12 sites by a) looking for close proximity connections such as easy transportation between college professors and K-12 sites, and b) Recruiting one "prime" teacher per school site who can act a liaison for the professor, facilitate the placement of college students in the classrooms, and advocate the program to other teachers within the school. 4) Have a "field day" where the professors visit the school or vice versa. 5) Set up alliances at the K-16 level to facilitate content along disciplinary lines as, for example, a regional physics alliance. Once these connections are made they can be used to foster other efforts involved in implementing this goal, such as improving the representation of minority members and women as scientists and mathematicians.

Goal #5: Develop a program to support new science and mathematics teachers in their first years in the classroom.

The STEMTEC principal investigators have put a number of well considered devices in place for achieving this goal. Whereas the NVC agrees with the general scope and choice of these elements, we note that all of the support mechanisms are voluntary. There do not seem to be any formal, programmatic mechanisms in place that would indicate whether or not new teachers are actually being supported in their initial years of teaching….

Goal #7: Conduct strong programs of evaluation and assessment. The NVC was disappointed that it did not have the time during its site visit to thoroughly explore the program of evaluation employed by STEMTEC…. Among the questions that the NVC had with regard to evaluation were: 1) How do the STEMTEC PI's know that the faculty participants in the project are doing what they say that they are doing? 2) Conversely, how are the faculty apprised of their own progress, or lack of it? 3) Finally, what have the students learned? The students should be encouraged to reflect on the progress that they have made, and this should be built into the group dynamic.

Summary and Conclusions: The overall impression of the National Visiting Committee was that the STEMTEC program is off to a good start in achieving a complex set of interrelated goals whose objective is the improvement of science, mathematics, and engineering teaching in support of K-12 education. However, the NVC has the impression that up until now the principal emphasis of the program seems to have been on the redesign of college-level science and mathematics courses rather than on teacher recruitment and development. In addition, much of the effort on the curricular side seems to have been on the redesign of individual courses, rather than on the development of an overall curriculum. The NVC notes that lack of a comprehensive model of curricular development as it relates to teacher training will hamper the assessment of how well the STEMTEC program has accomplished its goals. The NVC therefore urges the PI's to explicitly describe their model for curricular development. Finally, the NVC urges the PI's to develop an organized effort to recruit teachers from their college courses and to give further thought as to how to accomplish their goal of increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented minorities in the program.

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Created June 2000
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