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A Missouri University Advancing STEM Education for Public Schools

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of STEM. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Students are arriving to college unprepared for college level STEM courses. And in an era defined by technological growth and innovation, students who succeed in STEM careers will drive the future — and earn more money than non-STEM workers — doing it.

STEM education also struggles to recruit and retain qualified teachers to teach elementary and secondary school STEM classes. Qualified STEM teachers — who are often one of a very small number of STEM professionals in a school district — often feel isolated and under-stimulated, leaving education for STEM professions that offer a stronger sense of community.

“In 2009, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future reported that nearly half of all new K-12 teachers leave the profession within their first five years. For science teachers…up to 40 percent leave the profession in the first three years, depending on the school district.” -source

Washington University in St. Louis is working to change those trends by offering a masters degree program that’s designed for high school biology teachers.

The masters program was created from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Math and Science Partnership Teacher Institute seed grant, and some of its original goals included reinvigorating teachers, expanding their knowledge, and reminding them how exciting modern biology can be.

The program, run by the Institute for School Partnership (ISP), is working. One of its sustaining benefits is that teachers who complete the program leave with a network of colleagues who help them feel connected and supported in their careers as educators. That sense of community may help schools retain STEM teachers, and it’s already helping students whose teachers have completed Washington University’s masters degree program.

Phyllis Balcerzak, PhD, is the associate director of ISP. She tracks the professional networks developed by teachers who complete the masters program, and she says that they remain intact for years after graduation. She has also tracked the classroom successes of teachers who’ve completed the degree. After teachers attend the masters program, their students’ test scores show concrete and steady improvement. (source)

Professional development and peer networks for STEM teachers are key to keeping great teachers in the field. And keeping great teachers in the field is key to the success Missouri’s K-12 students will have in college level STEM classes and beyond.

Do you enjoy reading about issues like the STEM crisis and how Missourians are helping to address them?

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