IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING EDUCATORS IN STEM LEARNING
A STEM curriculum is only as successful as the educators that help deliver it. Despite teachers' best efforts, far too few students get the benefit of adequately trained instructors that inspire interest in STEM-based learning. Rigorous and multifaceted training and professional development are crucial for helping educators to teach adequate science proficiency and prepare qualified professionals for future STEM occupations.
Lack of Teachers Trained in STEM Education Subjects
Most U.S. states currently experience shortages of qualified science and math teachers. Moreover, these teaching jobs have an annual turnover rate of 16 percent. To cover the shortfall, the burden of math and science instruction often falls on teachers who lack the necessary STEM background to do their jobs well. Such gaps disproportionately exist in schools that teach mostly minority students.
Furthermore, college students majoring in elementary and middle school teaching tend to take few math and science courses. This low course-taking factors a great deal into many teachers' lack of preparation to teach STEM, ultimately contributing to lower student learning outcomes later on.
Preparing students for STEM fields and imparting on them science and math competencies is the responsibility of teachers and school administrators. Equipping our educators to deliver quality STEM curricula requires adequate teacher preparation, continuous education for teaching professionals, and administrator training.
Teacher Preparation for STEM Education
More states are increasingly revising their teacher preparation requirements to mandate that education majors take more math and science courses. Research suggests that the amount of time education majors spend studying math and science correlates with their STEM teaching quality when on the job.
Many colleges and universities have teacher preparation programs that give students more focused training and teaching experience in STEM subjects. One such program is UTeach at the University of Texas, which encourages promising majors in STEM fields to go into high school teaching. The program offers an undergraduate science major, teaching certification, one-on-one coaching, and teaching experience, which students can complete in four years instead of the typical five.
UTeach also works to attract minority students, who are underrepresented in STEM careers. The U.S. Department of Education and the National Research Council recognize UTeach as an exemplary model for preparing teachers for science, math, and computer science instruction.
Training should never end once aspiring teachers graduate college. School districts need to provide professional development and support for teachers to improve the quality of their STEM teaching. Educational communities can work together to make workshops, practical experiences, and other growth opportunities available to more teachers.
The Dayton Regional STEM School serves as an excellent example of STEM-based professional development. One of their initiatives allows educators to see how project-based learning (PBL) in STEM can work in the school setting. Educators can visit classrooms to see examples of PBL, engage the school's teachers and administrators in discussion, or join an online book study. The Dayton school also offers one- or multi-day workshops in PBL.
School districts and other entities also need to present professional development that helps teachers acquire knowledge and experience progressively, not just in a one-time setting. These opportunities should include integrated training instead of fragmented workshops that don't allow for more sophisticated, incremental development.
The Michigan Teacher Excellence Program (MiTEP) provides a multi-year experience for earth science teachers. For two summers and during the academic year, MiTEP delivers training in pedagogy and earth science literacy through field trips, on-site instruction, conversations with experts, internships at national parks, and online learning. Teachers who complete the program can apply their course credits toward a master's degree in earth science education.
Educators who teach STEM in K-12 need school administrators' support to be successful. To be aligned with teachers on educational goals, principals and other leaders need professional development to help teachers advance STEM education in their schools. Administrative leaders can benefit from continued education to improve math outcomes, set science proficiency standards, and help teachers benefit from STEM professional development.
An effective STEM curriculum depends on the adequate training and continued professional development of educators and school administrators. Even teachers who don't have a STEM background can learn the common science-based language necessary to plan lessons and facilitate project-based learning. Ensuring teachers have the skills and tools to advance STEM education helps future mathematicians and science professionals prepare for global competitiveness.