Aggie-STEM Researchers Help Boost Student Math and Science Performance

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: October 01, 2010

As many U.S. schools are seeing student performance in math and science lag, A.J. Moore Academy in Waco ISD — with the help of Texas A&M University researchers — has boosted its student achievement in these key academic areas. As the state’s largest producer of teachers in high-need fields, including math and science, the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M is home to the Aggie Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Center.

Aggie-STEM has been working with A.J. Moore and other Waco schools over the last three years through a district-wide initiative to strengthen math and science achievement. “The school experienced gains of 42 percent and 44 percent in math and science on their TAKS scores for the students who received the intervention for three years,” says Robert Capraro, associate professor of mathematics education.

Aggie-STEM personnel research, create and provide professional development on the most effective teaching and learning strategies for math and science. The center emphasizes an educational model called project-based learning, which relies on student projects over textbooks. “The teachers with the best implementation — meaning they follow the model closely — have the most gains in closing the achievement gap,” he adds. “STEM project-based learning integrates engineering design principles with the K-16 curriculum,” says Mary Margaret Capraro, assistant professor of mathematics education. “This infusion of design principles enhances real-world applicability and helps to prepare students for post-secondary education, with an emphasis on making connections to what STEM professionals actually do on the job.”

At A.J. Moore, a magnet high school, all math and science teachers as well as school administrators have received professional development on how to successfully implement STEM project-based learning in the classroom. “Project-based learning makes a difference because the students are able to make associations from what they’ve experienced and when we review the material later,” says Stephanie Bailey, an A.J. Moore science teacher. “Project-based learning seems to help with retaining material. The students have an experience to fall back on, and they also learn to brainstorm and problem solve better,” says math teacher Kari Emblem. School principal Angela Reiher says working with Aggie-STEM has made a difference for both teachers and students. “I think the professional development provided really gave the teachers a deeper understanding of the benefits of professional learning communities and project-based learning,” she says. “Project-based learning really gives the students the relevance they need to understand why learning is important. Students are able to apply the learning in a real-world, problem-based setting, which gets them excited in a whole new way,” she adds.