New UMass Amherst Program Aims to Improve Teaching of Science, Engineering and Mathematics

AMHERST, Mass. - A new program at the University of Massachusetts is developing alternative ways to teach science, engineering, and mathematics to K-12 and beginning college students.

Called the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Institute (STEM), this program draws on the expertise of local educators from kindergarten through college to attack the issue of better education on a number of fronts.

"We''re working from both the inside and the outside," explains STEM director Mort Sternheim, a physics professor at UMass. "We''rebringing together Five College professors from a variety of disciplines and local leaders from the K-12 community so that they can work as one to bring new perspectives to the improvement of education. In the process we''re focusing on K-12 students, K-12 teachers, and higher education students preparing to become teachers.

Funded by the University, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation, STEM has already established a number of different projects since being put in place last year. Projects already underway include the following:

The Teacher Enhancement Project: This program - a joint effort between the School of Education and various other departments throughout the University - reaches out to K-12 teachers in Springfield and the surrounding area to offer them further training in their disciplines. At present, UMass astronomy professor David Van Blerkom is offering a class in the teaching of astronomy. A class in "Electricity and Magnetism for Teachers" will be taught this spring by faculty from the UMass department of physics and astronomy.

The STEM Seminars: This series of lectures is aimed at K-12 teachers, college faculty, and students training to be teachers and focuses on various aspects of teaching. Recent lectures have included topics as wide-ranging as the ethical use of computers in the classroom and the history of science in Africa.

Internet courses: At present STEM is offering two courses for K-12 teachers over the Internet. One is on the ethics of the Internet. The other trains teachers how to introduce various aspects of biology and chemistry through the teaching of nutrition. Both are presented via UMassK12, an Internet service reaching more than 2,000 Massachusetts classrooms.

"By improving methods of teaching math and science to students and student teachers, we will increase preparedness at the source," says assistant education professor Allan Feldman, STEM representative from the School of Education. "Through STEM we are ready to use any means at our disposal, whether they be interdisciplinary, hands on, or hi-tech."