ØSTEMTEC×

Session 1: Making a Difference in Science and Math Teaching

The session convenes at 9:00 a.m. Mort Sternheim (principal investigator) welcomes participants to the summer workshop and updates them on the status of the NSF grant. He introduces STEMTEC staff--Steve Nathan, Drue Johnson, and Susan Newton-and the co-principal investigators-Richard Yuretich, Charlene D'Avanzo, Allan Feldman, and Sue Thrasher.

Participants go around the room and introduce themselves.

Allan Feldman introduces the first panel-Greg Prince (President, Hampshire College), Linda Slakey (Professor of Biochemistry and Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Math, UMASS), Amanda Rappold (undergraduate in physics, UMASS), and himself.

Greg Prince begins panel discussion by offering a number of propositions about the nature of education and educational change (see Attachment A for the complete list of these propositions-Prince focused on Propositions I-V, VIII in his presentation).

Linda Slakey continues the panel discussion by asking participants to respond to an orally administered mini-survey concerning the motivations of faculty to succeed at teaching. Participants were asked to agree or disagree with four statements. The statements and responses (measured by a rough hand count) are listed below: Slakey agrees with the majority re: Questions 1 and 2. Based on her observations, while faculty are sensitive to pay differences within and between departments, salary is not their primary motivation in performance. Recognition (including of teaching) is as important as salary.

According to Slakey, the two most important tools available to the Dean to motivate faculty are 1) recognition (ranging from a personal pat on the back to public award), and 2) keeping teaching-relevant issues continually on the agenda.

University faculty live under the dual pressures of providing excellent instruction and funding research. Cynicism about teaching in higher education is misplaced. Faculty want to be good teachers but may not always know how to be.

Allan Feldman reminds participants that a central goal of STEMTEC is to attract more undergraduates to science education. Hence, why people become science teachers is an important issue.

Allan describes his decision to enter science education, a decision that came long after his matriculation as an undergraduate.

Allan then asks participants to describe some of their reasons for becoming science educators. Reasons cited include: an outstanding role model in high school; tutoring experiences as an undergraduate; the growing recognition that learning is fun and that the best way to continue learning is to teach; and a woman's need to have good employment outside of the home. One Curriculum Scholar noted that another important question to consider is why people stay in science education; from that participant's perspective, the reason is that there's never a dull moment-the fun of good teaching is something that's often not communicated well enough.

Allan points to additional reasons for becoming science educators cited by surveys: working with young people, loving the subject matter, etc.

Allan offers data from UMASS-Amherst showing the numbers of students receiving certification in science education. The data indicate that, except for biology, there are a very small number of students in science education/teacher certification programs. Additionally, while the gender gap in science education is closing (approximately 42% of all students receiving certification in science education are now female), the African Americans and Hispanics are still underrepresented in science education.

Based on Allan's observations, the demand for science teachers still exceeds the supply. Promoting certification is important for both our communities and our students' careers.

The final panelist is Amanda Rappold. She talks about how she developed a desire to someday become a science educator. She had an "awesome" high school physics teacher, which developed her interest in the field, but her real interest in teaching came when she took an introductory physics course as an undergraduate from Bill Gerace, one of the workshop's own.

The course made use of ClassTalk, a technological application that helps make large lectures more interactive. She began to understand how people learn, how collaboration and the verbal expression of imaginings are essential to developing the critical thinking that marks the good scientist. Because she came to see active engagement as critical to the project(s) of physics, she began to cultivate a desire to teach others, to "help high school students with what they're letting into their brains."

Amanda also points to the writing course she took with Mort Sternheim, which taught not just technical writing but how to be persuasive. The course also helped her to consider career options in physics as well.

Amanda discusses other factors that she believes critical to her decision to become a science teacher: having opportunities to teach, becoming part of a community of learners, perceiving the commitment of her own professors to the mission of teaching. She pointed out that science advisors, possibly because of their belief that teaching is a second-rate application of science skills do not often push teaching.

The panel then opens the session to discussion from the floor.

A faculty member from UMASS points out that untenured faculty need more encouragement and especially more guidance about how much and what kind of teaching is truly valued and rewarded by the institution.

Linda Slakey responds by talking about the dichotomy between teaching and research that has come out in the panel's discussion. She wonders whether it is a "true dichotomy" or a "constraining myth." She acknowledges that the dichotomy exists to a certain extent, and points to the growing demands on science faculty in the area of funding. Competition for funding has become severe; today, science faculty must write anywhere from three to five grants to get just one funded.

But Slakey also points to the way teaching feeds research and vice versa, that we should understand teaching and research as a continuum rather than discrete categories. We need to develop better connections in our own lives and in the experience of our students between teaching and pushing the envelope of knowledge.

Another participant asks if there will be a place in the workshop for discussion of Greg Prince's Proposition X (about the way a lack of communication between secondary schools and colleges inhibits curricular and pedagogical innovation). One of the principal investigators points out that NSF is especially interested in collaboration across the high school, community college, college and university levels. The structure of the entire workshop and project is designed to assist better articulation of goals across institutions and educational levels.

Greg Prince notes that curricular reform does not adequately address the underlying problems; rather, cultural change is what is needed (i.e., how we think about students and what we're really here for). For him, the issue is how do we use curriculum change to accomplish cultural change and vice versa, something he believes is an issue for the summer workshop as well.

The panel concludes at 10:30.

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