The University of Findlay has received a $1.2 million grant, its largest ever, to groom math and science teachers for work in schools that serve many low-income students.
The National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program is competitive. The University was one of 142 in the nation that submitted proposals, and is one of approximately 45 receiving Foundation funding.
“It’s huge,” said Tricia Valasek, the University’s grant coordinator, of the award. “In the past, our largest (grant) has been less than $600,000, and that was just for one year.”
The University’s program, called Acquiring Teaching Opportunities in Mathematics and Science (ATOMS), will be a five-year endeavor that launched this semester. Stellar science and math undergraduates, along with working professionals, are being recruited with scholarships and teaching opportunities. In return, they are required to commit for at least two years, depending upon their scholarship status, to teach students in grades seven through 12 attending “high-needs” schools with identifiable criteria relating to the percentage of students from families that live below the federal poverty line, teacher vacancies and turnover rates, and low academic performance.
Ohio has a need for more math and science teachers, particularly because of state-funded pension plan changes that have been enticing veteran educators to retire earlier than expected, said Valasek. But the National Education Association reports the problem exists at schools throughout the country.
The University, through its ATOMS program, has pledged to recruit 24 undergraduate juniors majoring in biology or math to concurrently pursue a teaching degree; and eight so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals to pursue math and science teaching careers. All undergraduates will receive three years of scholarships and stipends totaling $37,500, while the STEM professionals will receive one year of scholarship funding totaling $14,000.
The post-baccalaureate adolescent/young adult licensure teacher education program in which ATOMS scholars will enroll is based on the University’s successful one-year accelerated Building Excellent Science Teachers project that had been funded for three years by a renewable Ohio Department of Education grant.
For hands-on experience, ATOMS participants will be paired with teachers in Findlay, Hancock County and Lima city schools, and with others in the region, such as Toledo, that the state has identified as high-need.
The University’s program is also serving as a pilot project for the National Science Foundation, which is seeking to identify best pedagogical methods.
“The NSF is eyeing technology and research projects like this because they want to learn what works and what doesn’t in the field of education,” said Valasek. “So they’re asking us to evaluate and show best practices. They do expect participating schools to disseminate their findings with others, at conferences, and in journals,” she said.
“We should be broadly training our teachers in all areas of biology and the sciences,” not just content mandated by Common Core state curriculum standards, said Dr. Pamela Warton, professor and chair of mathematics.
“Our teachers are often minimally prepared for the ever-changing world of science. New technologies and discoveries are happening daily, and we need to prepare our teachers to be able to understand and teach this evolving discipline,” she said.
Math teachers should also be applying practical teaching methods, said Warton.
“We have to show our future teachers that they cannot just teach a single concept in isolation,” she said, “but that they need to guide their students to make connections by looking at real-world problems. The real application of math can be very messy, and is very unlike anything they may find in a textbook.”
Warton also thinks teachers should set the bar higher for their students and themselves.
“We want to prepare future teachers to have higher expectations and set higher standards for their students. We want to help our future teachers be rigorous, helpful, caring, and most importantly, life-long learners themselves. We are constantly looking for ways to do this better, and I believe this is a part of this grant,” she said.
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