STEM for the Future
Friday, February 28, 2014
This article appears in the 2014 issue of Vanguard, Oklahoma State University’s Research magazine.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics represent key areas in education and employment now and for the future. The Oklahoma State University College of Education’s efforts to prepare future teachers and professionals for STEM areas are broad and growing, reflecting a collaborative and vibrant culture where STEM subjects are a priority.
While the College of Education’s working definition of STEM starts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, it doesn’t end there.
“We prepare teachers of math and science, and elementary and special education teachers who have emphases in these areas,” College of Education Dean Pamela “Sissi” Carroll says. “Beyond the usual definitions, though, our working definition includes our STEM-active aviation and aerospace education programs, and our health and human performance programs, including health promotion, exercise science, therapeutic recreation, recreation management, physical education, and athletic training, each of which requires a science-strong foundation.”
With so many science-heavy programs, opportunities for collaboration across programs are numerous.
The college also serves as the home of NASA Education Projects at OSU. The university has a lengthy and rich history with NASA Education, dating back more than 40 years. Today, more than $40 million in contracts reside at Oklahoma State and reach thousands of K-12 teachers and students across the country.
The Center for Research on STEM Teaching and Learning (CRSTL) has continued to grow and expand. The center engages in a range of collaborative research and outreach projects that aim to improve STEM teaching and learning. CRSTL matches the needs of Oklahoma classrooms with the innovation of OSU’s premier scientists and engineers. (For more information on CRSTL, visit http://crstl.okstate.edu)
Juliana Utley, mathematics education associate professor and Alice Phillips Professor in Elementary Education, and Toni Ivey, assistant professor in science education, co-direct CRSTL. Faculty members from the colleges of Education, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering, Architecture and Technology are part of projects filtering through CRSTL, which is building a larger STEM pipeline through its efforts.
“By fifth grade, we are already losing students from STEM fields and by eighth grade, students have decided whether a STEM career is an option for them. Targeting early grades is very important,” Ivey notes.
Faculty members partner with public school teachers on an array of grant-funded research and outreach projects. In 2012, CRSTL and NASA Education Projects partnered with Stillwater Public Schools to host one of a handful of Downlinks with the International Space Station. More than 400 sixth-graders came to the OSU campus to communicate in real time with NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, who was aboard the International Space Station.
Another example of a joint project is a state grant called C-3 — College, Career, Citizen — where faculty members work with a co-op that serves many rural school districts to implement Engineering is Elementary, a well-established curriculum from the Boston Museum of Science.
Engineering, aerospace and energy are prominent STEM job fields in Oklahoma. There is also a documented shortage of doctors in the state. STEM education is vital to all of these fields, and increasing awareness of the importance of math and science for K-12 students is an integral step.
“We are really trying to help build interest in the areas that industry is reporting a need,” Utley says. “I think we are seeing a lot of success and an uptick in the number of K-12 teachers’ schools desiring to work with the university.”
CRSTL participated in the Governor’s STEM Summit and an Aerospace Education Industry Partnership Meeting in 2013. The center also has hosted a STEM Teacher Institute each of the last two summers with plans for a third in 2014. A Broader Impacts workshop brought together faculty members and community entities, such as the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Oklahoma WONDERtorium, providing a place to network and make research connections.
In the fall of 2013, Robert Raab joined the college as its first coordinator of faculty and student research initiatives, a role that serves to connect with external funding agencies and community partners and support faculty in research and outreach efforts.
In 2012, Oklahoma State University joined STEMx, a multistate network developed by states, for states. A self-described grassroots movement, STEMx provides “an accessible platform for states to share, analyze and disseminate quality STEM education tools to transform education.” STEMx efforts aim to expand the number of STEM teachers, increase student achievement and grow tomorrow’s innovators.
Oklahoma is one of 19 states in this collaborative effort, which is sponsored by Battelle Inc. CRSTL serves as the official hub for the state in STEMx. Education faculty members are working to get teachers to share knowledge with other teachers.
“There are many silos of excellence in our state,” Utley says. “The impetus behind STEMx is to create one
hub in the state that can pull in those silos and share them with others.”
The College of Education has teamed with the College of Arts and Sciences to secure a grant that will help support a new and effective approach to recruiting and preparing secondary science and mathematics teachers.
OSU received a $1.45 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to implement OSUTeach. The program is modeled after the highly successful and innovative UTeach at the University of Texas-Austin. Launched at UT-Austin in 1997, the program has since been implemented at 34 other universities around the country with fantastic results. Research shows that a high percentage of program graduates enter the teaching profession, and five years later, most of them are still teaching in schools.
“One of the greatest potential benefits of the UTeach program is the number of graduates prepared to teach math and science for our state,” Carroll says.
UTeach was created to attract a wide range of bright science and mathematics majors into secondary teaching careers, to prepare them through an advanced field-intensive curriculum, and to promote professional retention through induction support and ongoing professional development.
(For more information on OSUTeach, visit: http://osu.teach.okstate.edu)
UTeach students begin by taking two recruitment courses (the courses are one credit hour and tuition costs are reimbursed, allowing students to try out teaching math or science without the financial commitment). Preparation to teach includes working in elementary, middle and high school classrooms with master teachers as they develop inquiry-based lessons using research-based curricula and materials.
Students receive a degree in their STEM major and full teaching certification without added time or cost. The university will raise additional funds for OSUTeach while working toward implementation in 2014-15. Support has been provided by the Schusterman Family Foundation and others.