When asked how important it is to improve how STEM subjects are taught, Jeffrey Carver, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Science Education, College of Education and Human Services at West Virginia University (WVU), is quick to reply that it is extremely important.
"We live in an increasingly more technical society," Carver notes. "Technology is permeating every aspect of our existence. Having students come out of high school scientifically, mathematically and technologically fluent is extremely important to the advancement of our society."
With the recent award of a National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) grant, WVU will be able to produce more highly-effective secondary math and science teachers, which will in turn inspire, engage and excite new generations of students about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The five-year, $1,450,000 grant to WVU is for the replication of the UTeach STEM Teacher Preparation program, which was started at the University of Texas at Austin and is now running at 44 colleges and universities nationwide. WVU was selected among a prestigious group of universities and colleges that applied for the highly –competitive grant. At WVU, the program will be aptly named WVUteach.
According to Dr. Carver, the UTeach program is a unique four year undergraduate model that provides students with "one degree and two career options."
"Students get a B.S. degree in their content area – science or mathematics – which qualifies them to go to graduate school or a research program," explains Dr. Carver. "The courses they take during the four years also qualify them for teaching and fully certifies them in the state that the UTeach program is run."
A key reason WVU applied for the grant was to graduate more STEM teachers.
"With WVUteach, we are hoping to at least double the number of teachers we graduate," says Gypsy Denzine, Ph.D., Dean, College of Education and Human Services at WVU. "The data speaks for itself – what's remarkable is how quickly universities have been able to meet their goals in preparing more STEM teachers by entering the UTeach community."
WVU also wants to get high-quality STEM teachers into rural communities in West Virginia. "The challenge isn't just at the curricular level," adds Dr. Denzine, "but also at the placement level for high-quality clinical, practical experiences so we can recruit teachers in hard to staff areas. Our number one concern is our rural communities and how we get the best teachers in those communities and support them to stay."
According to Dr. Denzine, there is a lot of activity at WVU in the area of professional development of STEM teachers. She mentions several programs including Science Behind the Sports, camps to get students – including girls – interested in engineering, the Garden-based learning program, a Gigapan program and Arts and Bots through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. WVU's College of Education is a member of an interstate network of "CREATE Labs" that advance the use of robotic learning tools in the classroom.
All of these programs are geared to foster an interest in math and science.
"Fostering student interest – especially in everyday science – is the key to increasing the number of kids who go into math and science disciplines," says Dr. Carver. Whether it means teaching those disciplines or practicing those disciplines, the excitement we can foster is key to advancing the number of students in the STEM discipline."
NMSI reports that there is a STEM crisis where American students are lagging behind in math and science.
"The majority of the crisis," in Dr. Carver's opinion, "revolves around the readily available local supply of individuals who are stem literate. We're looking at a lot of fields that are advancing very rapidly...and while the current statistics show we are increasing the number of students we are graduating with degrees in STEM, the number of jobs are increasing faster than we are increasing the number of students."
"We are running as fast as we can knowing the challenges that are ahead of us to meet the state's needs," Dr. Denzine explains. "Just in the area of STEM, we know that as we look ahead – say three years for now with all of our baby boomers retiring – we need to really take action to meet our state needs."
"The good news is that being a STEM teacher is a great investment," says Dr. Denzine. "When you graduate there will be jobs!"
With the launch of the WVUteach program, the university is truly embracing the program's motto: We prepare teachers, they change the world.