Growing Opportunity: UTeach Among New STEM Programs Addressing Teacher Shortage

     From Focus magazine, Spring 2012 >>

By Tim Turner

ince Richardson always thought he had a gift for teaching. In the Army, he taught soldiers first-aid for over five years and loved it, but he was unsure if he wanted to make teaching a career.

Until now.

Richardson recently found himself teaching again, this time as a Columbus State student fulfilling a class assignment at St. Mary’s Elementary Magnet Academy in south Columbus. There, he was earning hands-on experience as part of CSU’s UTeach program, a new initiative funded by CSU and a federal grant designed to produce more public school teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math — STEM, for short.

Part of Richardson’s assignment was to execute a lesson plan in front of a class. He had taught Combat Life Saver classes to soldiers with Fort Benning’s 3rd Infantry Division, but would he be as eager to remain in the classroom after a day with kids?

“Without a doubt,” Richardson said. “If I had any questions about it, the whole UTeach program makes me know for certain this is what I want to do. This is a great opportunity for me.”

It’s also a great opportunity for Columbus State, UTeach Columbus and CSU’s other new efforts to address the nation’s shortage of math and science teachers. Richardson’s experience is evidence the program is preparing well the next generation of teachers.

“The way that the professors went over specifically what was needed, what we were going to face, just the whole lesson program that they set up for us is great,” said Richardson. “If we had any questions — my partner (Sarah Hawk) and I had never done this before — this was a really nice guide for us to be able to teach without any problems.”

Columbus State exceeded its goal of attracting 24 students to the new program this spring as 32 enrolled. This bodes well as CSU coordinates a number of initiatives designed to recruit, train and retain high school teachers in STEM areas.

Last summer, CSU received a $1.4 million, four-and-ahalf year grant as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program to produce more STEM teachers through UTeach Columbus, which is modeled after a successful University of Texas program. CSU then received a $1.2 million award in September from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, named after the famed computer chip inventor, for a proposal called CRAFT-STEM, short for Columbus Region Academy for Future Teachers of STEM, which aims to help Columbus State recruit, develop and graduate an increasing number of high school STEM teachers over the next five years. Key CRAFTSTEM components are:

  • A STEM Honors summer camp for high school students across the state.
  • A $4,500 summer internship for CSU freshmen and sophomores.
  • A Teaching Connections Seminar that helps pre-service teachers address content in the high school curriculum.
  • Scholarships for CSU juniors and seniors ranging from $10,000-$13,000.
  • Scholarship recipients committing to teach two years in a high-need school district for each year they receive the scholarship

CRAFT-STEM’s main goal is to quadruple the number of high school math and science teachers CSU graduates within five years, bringing the total to around 19 per year.

Most of CSU’s new UTeach students are coming out of either math or a science field. Within the four years they’re in school, they’re also able to add a STEM teaching certificate to go with their bachelor’s degree. That not only helps them in their careers but addresses a nationwide need documented by statistics related to STEM teacher shortages:

  • Nationally, 23.9 percent of biology-life sciences teachers don’t have a major in that discipline, and 6.7 percent of biology-life sciences teachers aren’t certified in that area.
  • 51.8 percent of chemistry teachers didn’t major in chemistry, and 17.3 percent aren’t certified in chemistry.
  • 66.8 percent of earth sciences teachers didn’t major in earth sciences, and 43.5 percent aren’t certified in this area.
  • 42.3 percent of physics teachers didn’t major in physics, and 14.1 percent aren’t certified to teach in this area.
  • 51.5 percent of physical science teachers didn't major in any physical science, and 21.6 percent aren't certified in any physical science.
Closer to home, numbers collected from the latest data (2006-2007) reveal an equally dismal picture. Over that period, Georgia public and private universities graduated from traditional bachelor’s degree certification programs for teachers in grades 6-12:
  • 56 biology teachers
  • Nine chemistry teachers
  • 23 earth and space science teachers
  • One physics teacher
  • 35 general science teachers

In Georgia that same year, there was a 10.1 percent science teacher attrition rate in grades 6-12, resulting in almost 660 fewer science teachers — clearly more than Georgia colleges and universities could fill with their graduates.

Over the spring semester, CSU students will observe, create lesson plans and teach classes at elementary schools surrounding Columbus. They’re going out to do two classroom observations with a teacher and then, with a partner, they’re going to teach three lessons.

“This allows them to get their feet wet to see if they want to pursue teaching as a career,” said Gail Sinkule, the program’s master teacher, who teaches its introductory courses. “My job is to try to guide them, help them develop lessons and help them practice those lessons before they go out.”

Sinkule is driven to help the students circumvent problems that she anticipates they might initially encounter.

“The kids were awesome for us,” said Richardson’s partner, Sarah Hawk. “The instructors taught us a lesson laid out the way they wanted us to teach it. So we got to see a model of them teaching first. Then they let us try our hand at writing the lesson.”

Hawk likes the way UTeach puts CSU students in school classrooms earlier during their studies.

“I felt that if I wasn’t in the classroom, I would get burned out by the time I actually got to be in class with students,” she said. “I think we both had high hopes for the outcome and we got a better reaction than we had planned. It was everything I was hoping it would be.”

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Photo captions, from top:

UTeach student Vince Richardson, dressed for swamp exploration, talks to third-graders about Georgia habitats, including swamps.

Jamya Maxwell, 9, and classmates watch as Vince Richardson dips swamp water.

UTeacher student Sarah Hawk, left, watches as Nimya Adams, 8, and a classmate pick through swamp material.

(Photos by Roger Hart)