K-12, College Teachers Will Meet at UMass Amherst to Discuss Ways to Improve Science, Math Education

AMHERST, Mass. - More than 100 educators including elementary and high school teachers as well as college professors will meet at the University of Massachusetts on Sat., Feb. 7, to discuss how the U.S. can produce more and better-prepared science and math teachers.

The gathering is part of a five-year collaborative effort between area colleges and K-12 educators. The project, STEMTEC (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Teacher Education Collaborative), is funded with a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Morton Sternheim, a professor emeritus of physics at UMass, heads up the effort, which links the Five Colleges (UMass and Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke colleges), with area community colleges and neighboring school districts. A major focus of the overall project is to revise courses so that instructors use the most effective ways of teaching math and science. This is critical, Sternheim says, because teachers usually teach the way they were taught.

The importance of revitalizing math and science education is heightened by the expected retirement of 40 percent of the nation’s teachers over the next five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The retirements come at a time when school enrollments are rising dramatically and there is an increasing need for scientifically trained workers in areas ranging from biotechnology to computers, Sternheim says.

"The emphasis of the revised courses is on having students actively learning rather than passively listening to lectures," Sternheim says. Students are encouraged to work in small groups and reach their own solutions to problems, often tackling real-world problems too complex for one person to solve alone. These approaches are being incorporated in courses taken by future elementary school teachers, who teach all subjects. The new methods are also being adopted by high school science and math teachers. "One of the most exciting aspects of the project has been the close collaboration between college and K-12 faculty, who have been learning from one another about how to best educate the next generation," says Sternheim.

The Saturday event will introduce teachers who are just entering the program to those who have been participating since last summer, says Susan Newton, STEMTEC project manager. The day will include a workshop led by Brenda Allen of the psychology department at Smith College, on the different ways in which students learn in the classroom. For instance, some respond best to information that is presented in a visual or auditory way; still others learn best by reading, or by doing a hands-on project, Newton says.

Teachers will also spend part of the day discussing what has worked in their new or revised courses, and what problems they have encountered. They will learn how to document their efforts, and to develop a portfolio that highlights their work, Newton says.

STEMTEC encourages high school and college students to consider careers as science and math teachers by publicizing the opportunities afforded by a teaching career, according to Sternheim. A major priority is recruiting more women and minorities into these fields, where they have long been underrepresented. The program offers math and science majors ways to experience teaching to learn whether they enjoy it. STEMTEC also works to provide mentors and other support to new science and math teachers, Sternheim says.

STEMTEC participants include: the University of Massachusetts; Hampshire, Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges; and Springfield Technical, Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges. The project also includes public schools in Springfield, Amherst, Holyoke, Hadley, Northampton, South Hadley, and Franklin County. The Five College/Public School Partnership coordinates the school-college connections.

For more information, contact Susan Newton, STEMTEC project manager, at 413/545-0453 or snewton@k12s.phast.umass.edu; or Morton Sternheim at 413/545-1908 or mms@k12.oit.umass.edu.