Integrating NSF-funded projects offers new ways to improve STEM education


A couple of years ago, scientists on the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology saw a dire statistic. Of the new graduates from the colleges of education across the state, not one student had passed the Praxis certification exam in Physics.

While Georgia Tech by charter is not in the business of certifying teachers, it has a clear interest in the quality of science teaching in the state and the quality of undergraduates entering the university system. Now, through a new National Science Foundation (NSF) activity, Georgia Tech is integrating existing NSF-funded projects on campus that benefit science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, faculty and students at all levels who are interested in STEM teaching.

Georgia Tech is one of six institutions that received funding in fiscal year 2008 via Innovation Through Institutional Integration, or I3, an effort intended to link institutions' existing NSF-funded projects in STEM education and to leverage their collective strengths. The other five instiutions are Louisiana State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Washington, the University of Florida and Hawaii's Kapiolani Community College.

As a cross-divisional activity in NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources, I3 promotes increased collaboration within and between institutions and addresses important directorate initiatives: broader participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM, critical educational junctures, the integration of research and education, a globally engaged workforce and research and evaluation.

At Georgia Tech, plenty of students go into teaching, according to Donna Llewellyn, director of the institution's Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

"Our students are bright, and those with an interest in teaching figure out what they need to do," says Llewellyn. "We want to create pathways so they're well prepared when they leave Tech. We also want to get it into the mindset on campus that this isn't a bad thing to do."

Through its I3 project, Tech to Teaching, Georgia Tech is bringing together resources that enable and encourage undergraduate and graduate students to effectively pursue careers in K-12 or college teaching. Through a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship award to Georgia Tech in partnership with Kennesaw State University, undergraduates receive stipends while working towards their master's degree in teaching. Through the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12), graduate students are receiving education in pedagogy and then experience in local K-12 classrooms. Meanwhile, I3 is strengthening ties between Georgia Tech and partner institutions of higher education, such as Spelman and Georgia Perimeter College, where, through I3, Georgia Tech graduate students will serve as instructors in college classrooms.

"Since most of our undergrads are not taught by grad students, many graduate students don't get experience teaching at Georgia Tech," says Llewellyn."

Through I3, from the undergraduate to the doctoral level, a number of NSF-funded programs and projects offer students resources for having teaching experiences and seeing where their needs are in preparing them for academic careers--whether at a small university, a liberal arts college or a two-year college.

A strategic approach at LSU

To build a successful model of integration in the STEM disciplines, the I3 project at Louisiana State University will assist students in their professional development towards advanced degrees, create an interdisciplinary curriculum in materials engineering and science, and develop a hierarchical mentoring ladder system involving faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students and high school teachers and students. Of 50 ongoing awards in these areas, most are funded by NSF. The projects are currently supporting more than 50 doctoral students, 300 undergraduates, hundreds of school teachers and thousands of K-12 students. The university's Office of Strategic Initiatives is integrating projects under its leadership and that of the Gordon A. Cain Center for Scientific, Technological, Engineering and Mathematical Literacy.

"We're excited about bringing these programs under one umbrella, said Isiah Warner, vice chancellor for Lousiana State's Office of Strategic Initiatives. "A lot of our programs are bringing underrepresented people into STEM."

Preparing future teachers at UC Boulder

The University of Colorado at Boulder's I3 project picks up on recommendations made in the influential report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, to identify three broad goals: transforming STEM education, building a community of education research within the science departments and developing future educators. Toward that end, the university is using I3 funding to build a Center for STEM Education Research and Transformation that integrates education projects across the campus. The center links more than eight traditional departments in three colleges and schools, including the schools of education and engineering and the departments of life sciences, mathematics and physical sciences. While each department retains its identity, the center provides an infrastructure for bringing together key ideas and sharing strategies and results.

"We're helping transform the identity of physics and STEM professors to identify themselves as recruiters and preparers of K-12 teachers," says Noah Finkelstein, professor of physics.

Drawing on NSF-funded projects, including those funded through the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement program, the university is performing a biology concept inventory and developing new tools in physics, biology and chemistry education, transforming classes and building a foundation with which to evaluate the results of the new initiatives.

Through the NSF Noyce; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Teacher Preparation; and Teacher Professional Continuum programs, the faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering are partnering with faculty in the School of Education to recruit, prepare and support the next generation of STEM teachers. Meanwhile, each of these efforts is supported by more fundamental research in education through NSF Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering, and CAREER awards.

"When we talk about our identity as a research institution, we want to include that in research-based education," says Valerie Otero, associate professor of science education.

"Traditionally, science departments have been silos," adds Finkelstein. "This way education is housed in each of the departments and interdisciplinary work is supported across campus."

Welcoming underrepresented groups at UW

The University of Washington's I3 project focuses on improving the experiences of underrepresented undergraduate minorities, women and students with disabilities in the college of engineering. This effort links centers funded through NSF's Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers program and Research in Disabilities Education program to help recruit and retain women and people with disabilities in the field of engineering. In addition, a project funded through the STEM Talent Expansion program reaches out to students at community colleges in the region.

The project focuses on making the climate welcoming to students of all different backgrounds. The University of Washington will be training a peer-to-peer workforce of students to educate other students about bias against underrepresented students and how to confront bias. At the same time, the dean will work with student leaders to educate the faculty and department chairs on bias.

"The proportion of women receiving bachelor's degrees in engineering was about 19 percent in 2006, and underrepresented minorities have had an even smaller share of the total," says Eve Riskin, professor of electrical engineering and associate dean of academic affairs at the College of Engineering. "Meanwhile, an engineering degree prepares you for good jobs with a good income. Getting an education in engineering can change your socio-economic status in one generation."

With good results from the I3 project, the model project in engineering can be applied to the other sciences on campus.

A global reach at UF

A unique aspect of the University of Florida's I3 project is its plan to create more international experiences for students. One approach will be to draw on its GK-12 program to have graduate students serve as mentors to undergraduates during research experiences abroad. Through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, the university has a project in Ghana, and through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program there are chemistry projects in France, Brazil and Argentina. Undergraduates and graduate students would go as a team to work with internationally-known scientists.

Additionally, there are opportunities for graduate students to join already existing IGERT international field experiences in Botswana and southern Africa.

"Joining an already existing program delivers the synergies the project is trying to achieve and makes students and their families more comfortable about the experience," says Sandra Russo, director of program development at the University of Florida's International Center.

Recruiting Native Hawaiians into STEM

At Kapiolani Community College, University of Hawaii, the I3 project is working to increase the participation of native Hawaiians in STEM, given their historically very low representation in STEM disciplines. Building on their project funded through NSF's Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, and STEP programs, Kapiolani is developing a new associate of science in natural science degree and is engaging in the faculty development needed to increase the quantity and quality of STEM faculty, thus supporting a pipeline for more Native Hawaiian and other students to complete STEM degrees.

Pulling together resources

"Through I3, institutions have an opportunity to draw together their resources for maximum impact across the STEM education enterprise," said Wanda Ward, NSF's acting assistant director for the Education and Human Resources directorate. "We expect this effort to improve the experiences of students at all levels, strengthen education research and broaden the participation of those who are now underrepresented in the sciences."

More information on I3 is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2008/nsf08027/nsf08027.jsp?govDel=USNSF_25.

I3 projects funded in fiscal year 2008 are listed below:

Tech to Teaching
Integration of Education and Mentoring Programs at Louisiana State University
STEM Colorado/Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program
Transforming Engineering Through PEERS: Building a Better Experience for Underrepresented Students
Catalyzing institutional change in STEM education at the University of Florida
FIRE UP (Faculty Integration, Research, and Engagement in Urban Polynesia)
-NSF-

Media Contacts
Maria C. Zacharias, NSF (703) 292-8454 mzachari@nsf.gov





Published on: 2009-02-18



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