The lack of stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] educators is a national crisis, according to education leaders such as Martha Cyr, executive director of the newly created STEM Education Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. So WPI is one of many higher education institutions nationwide focusing on preparing its undergraduates to teach STEM topics inside the classroom and, ultimately, prepare students for careers in science or math.
WPI is unique in that it doesn’t offer a traditional teacher preparation program; rather, it works in conjunction with a teaching licensure program offered to undergraduates pursuing degrees in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, technology and engineering.
“Our graduates really know how to use the content in an applied manner,” says Cyr. “They can take that into the classroom. They’re not just memorizing things, but showing students where they can see it happening in their lives. It makes it really vivid for students.”
The STEM center, which opened this year, will allow WPI students to hone in on how they can relay their knowledge into engaging classroom activities.
Last February, President Obama outlined his focus for STEM education, which included increasing STEM literacy among students and improving the quality of math and science teaching in the classroom.
Despite the STEM buzz, a study released in June 2011 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed that 30 percent of STEM teachers in U.S. K12 schools were not certified to teach their subject.
Another unique higher education program is found at Wheelock College. Based in Boston, the college launched a new online professional development STEM program in November for elementary school teachers to spruce up their math and science knowledge.
According to Wheelock’s president, Jackie Jenkins-Scott, although there is an urgent need for teachers at all grade levels to be proficient in STEM education, most efforts are focused on middle, secondary and postsecondary schooling. The program’s two courses—Numbers and Operations, and Teaching and Learning Elementary Science—will teach elementary educators how to bring STEM subjects to younger students.