Friday, September 21, 2018
Education

USF gets millions to train new STEM teachers

The STEM conversation has spread across grades from kindergarten to college. But some say the sweet spot for STEM success may actually fall at that crucial, awkward step between it all.

Middle school.

The University of South Florida is focused on producing a new crop of STEM middle school teachers, thanks to the school's largest ever gift from the Helios Education Foundation — $3.16 million.

USF hopes to send 80 new STEM teachers into Hillsborough County middle schools by 2017. They'll be certified to teach the subject matter in grades 5-9, and know how to impart it to one of the most vulnerable student populations.

More than 90 percent of middle school students in the U.S. are taught math or science by a teacher working outside a field of expertise, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In young minds, research shows, that can have dire consequences. Math and science literacy for American 15-year-old students dropped steadily over a decade compared to students in other countries, according to an international assessment. Johns Hopkins University researchers found that if students begin to get off track as early as sixth grade, it can mean years of struggle and might jeopardize odds of graduation.

"It happens to be a time in school when students tend to disengage around math and sciences," said Stacy Carlson, vice president and program director for Helios in Florida. "If you can affect the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom, you can improve student achievement."

Middle schoolers experience new campus settings and higher-level work while their bodies and brains are changing. Around this time, studies show, they decide whether they will go to college, start to pick interests and identify what they want to do when they grow up.

"They're experiencing a lot of personal changes that come to their pre-adulthood persons," said Gladis Kersaint, math professor and associate dean for research at USF's College of Education. "They're also dealing with other aspects of their life, the peer pressure, more recently the bullying. It's a really unique age group. That's a key time when students begin to make choices."

What if a student wants to be, say, a creative writer? Why would STEM matter so much?

Different people have different interpretations of the field and its applications.

The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and math — skills that proponents argue can translate across all fields. The National Science Foundation gives STEM a broader definition, including chemistry, computer science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, materials research, math, physics and astronomy, psychology, social sciences and teaching STEM.

Organizations from the National Science Foundation to NASA to the Boy Scouts of America have launched STEM programs. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have preached the merits of STEM. In the world of immigration reform, some politicians have advocated easing green card access to immigrants skilled in STEM.

Pinellas County school leaders have emphasized budgeting for STEM labs and clubs. And last year, the state Legislature split $15 million among the top four universities with success tied to STEM — Florida International University, the University of Central Florida, the University of West Florida and the University of Florida.

Helios, a nonprofit in Florida and Arizona, has invested in STEM before, including $840,000 in 2011 for USF to launch a development program designed to help established math and science middle school teachers.

"It's a growing issue around developing high-quality teachers in the STEM field," Carlson said. "From a sustainability perspective, creating a pipeline of teachers that will go on to impact tens of thousands of students is a great investment for Helios."

USF's College of Education will lead the new program with help from the colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences. USF professors are working this summer to get the program off the ground and tailor the courses, approach and philosophy.

In the fall, the first group of 40 teachers will start to move through the program, which USF plans to continue indefinitely.

The future teachers will learn math and science skills, then transition into Hillsborough middle schools to work kind of like new doctors in residency, a more intensive track than a traditional internship. They'll co-teach and spend a full year with students, seeing development from start to finish, learning what works and what doesn't.

Being involved is essential for new teachers, program leaders said, at a time when technology is changing so fast.

"In middle school, we can begin to talk to them about careers and opportunities for those careers," she said. "We are preparing them for technology we have not yet seen."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394.

Comments

Two acclaimed authors to speak about water at USF St. Petersburg

Pulitzer Prize winner and University of Florida professor Jack Davis thinks people need to humble themselves more toward water."The water doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the water," he said. "Without water, humanity would not exist, life would not...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Students, parents invited to three upcoming college and career fairsThree events are scheduled over the next two weeks that are designed to help students plan their next steps after leaving the Pinellas County school system. The University of South F...
Published: 09/21/18
Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

TRINITY — Julie Michael stood in the metal bleachers, flute poised at her lips, ready to play the national anthem with the Seven Springs Middle School advanced band.As the band segued into the school fight song, the eighth-grader continued per...
Published: 09/20/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Let’s see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18

Local rapper encourages elementary students to attend school every day(w/video)

Local rapper Corey Thornton performs original songs on Wednesday Sept. 18, 2019 about the importance of school attendance at Walsingham Elementary School during a school wide assembly. During Attendance Awareness Month, Pinellas County Schools and th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

TAMPA — All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into o...
Published: 09/19/18
Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

LAND O' LAKES — The Pasco County School Board unanimously adopted a $1.26 billion budget Tuesday with a slightly lowered tax rate and funding for new school construction in both east and west Pasco.But the spending item that grabbed most of th...
Published: 09/19/18
Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

After he graduated from a Maryland high school, Rickey Murray had a number of opportunities awaiting him at a number of four-year institutions.He eyed the University of South Florida, applied to Florida International University and considered Virgini...
Published: 09/18/18
School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District’s concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district’s legislative picture for 2019 sha...
Published: 09/18/18
Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Robert Judson, who spent a decade as a community college president, died Monday afternoon. He was 77.In 1994 Judson took the helm at Pasco-Hernando State College, then called Pasco-Hernando Community College. He became the college’s second president ...
Published: 09/17/18