Commentaries

Let’s Support Teachers now STEM is not only M

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), with its intense focus on math and reading, I have had growing concerns that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education (known widely as STEM) would become just “M.” I increasingly noticed that regular math and reading assessments – a key element of NCLB – drove many districts to place greater emphasis on math instruction at the expense of science.

That’s why I’m feeling optimistic about the completion of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and growing implementation by states including California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware and Washington.

Next Generation Science StandardsTwenty-six states and their broad-based teams worked together with a 41-member writing team and partners throughout the country to develop the standards which are based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council. They are described as being rich in content and practice. The NGSS have been criticized as being overly complicated and difficult to understand, which could be particularly problematic for new teachers. On the other hand, the idea of making expectations for science teaching and learning the same across the country has been welcomed by educators and businesses alike, especially with their strong connection to Common Core (CCSS). The latter are particularly keen to ensure a local workforce with 21st century skills for office locations nationwide.

My view is that we should embrace the renewed emphasis on all of STEM -- as opposed to just “M” -- that NGSS has the potential to foster in our education system. More importantly, we must ensure that the momentum generated doesn’t fall flat in the classroom and that our teachers, especially our new teachers, are equipped to interpret and implement the standards and deliver the kind of engaging science classroom instruction that will result in the standards being met, improved student learning and a growing interest in careers in the scientific, engineering and technology fields.

What might be the barriers to this happening and how can we overcome them?  Educator perceptions indicate only 24.8 percent of STEM career encouragement programs are succeeding, according to reports co-published last year by STEMconnector, ASTRA and myCollegeOptions.org and featured in this Huffington Post article. Further, these educators say the goal of STEM career encouragement programs should be increased classroom engagement, followed by an increase in pursuing STEM related majors in college. It follows that if the goal is to make science classrooms more engaging for our students, we must first make sure our science teachers know how to do so effectively.

It has been proposed that in order to retain the students currently interested in STEM we must motivate and mentor them, enabling them to see the excitement and financial security a career in STEM will offer.

The same could be said for teachers: in order to retain our current STEM teachers, we must motivate and mentor them too and enable them to see the excitement of a career as a STEM teacher. That's what initiatives like 100Kin10.org, U-Teach.org and NTC's own e-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS) programs are focused on doing.

Supporting STEM teachers is the missing link in many of the solutions that are currently being proposed to improve student achievement in STEM disciplines. STEM teachers need to be empowered, not just with knowledge, which they likely already possess from the attainment of a bachelor’s and post-graduate education studies, but also with the pedagogical skills to be successful STEM teachers whose classrooms engage students in active learning.  

Through our e-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS) program new science and math teachers receive one on one mentoring by experienced, talented teachers of the same content area and grade level.

Another program component, Explorations, is a selection of eight-week, classroom-based, online professional development modules that allow new STEM teachers to take a deep dive into a specific area of practice. For example, in the Effective Science Labs module, new teachers learn how to implement lab procedures for classroom safety and management, to find and adapt an inquiry based hands-on lab that is appropriate for their classroom and analyze and reflect on the results after the lesson. Science Labs make science lessons more engaging for students and teachers need to feel well-prepared and confident conducting them. 

And the third eMSS program component is an online community of practice where teachers participate in discussion forums on STEM-related instructional content and pedagogy facilitated by teacher leaders and academic experts, and access to supporting resources. These resources have been specifically selected and their release to teachers is staged to help advance practice at key times of the year.

The introduction of NGSS provides educators with an opportunity to really focus on STEM and not just M. As we focus on improving student learning in STEM disciplines, let’s not forget that the teacher is the single biggest classroom-based determinant of that student learning and let’s prioritize investment in support for STEM teachers alongside other initiatives targeted an energizing STEM students. If we really want to create a new generation of highly-motivated STEM students and a pipeline of potential STEM employees for American companies we must first and foremost equip our STEM classroom teachers with the professional development and skills they need to inspire STEM learning.

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New Teacher Center partners with states and districts to deliver eMSS to their novice STEM educators and with organizations like U-Teach and the National Science Teachers Association that includes participation in eMSS as a mandatory part of their fellowship program. Learn more.

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