As part of land-grant mission, production and mentorship of STEM educators is top priority

Image Credit: James LaComb for the College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M
Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: July 10, 2012

As part of Texas A&M University’s commitment to its land-grant heritage to provide the population of Texas with a practical education that directly impacts their daily lives, the College of Education and Human Development continues its charge to produce educators to teach and mentor the leaders of tomorrow.

The college is currently the state’s largest producer of teachers in the high-needs fields of bilingual education, math and science, and in order to assist the nation in meeting the rising demand for qualified STEM professionals required in today’s job market, the college is focused on developing strong math and science teachers to enter public school classrooms.

“Developing strong math and science teachers plays an important role in interesting young people to enter STEM fields,” says Robert Capraro, associate professor of mathematics education and director of the Aggie-STEM Center. “STEM teachers provide holistic insights into the teaching and learning processes for students, and ultimately, these students will be more likely to major in a STEM field in college.”

Creating highly qualified STEM educators is crucial given recent statistics showing jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow by 48 percent between 2011 and 2018, which is nearly three times the growth expected in service jobs. Texas A&M is doing its part to help, producing more STEM teachers than any other university in the state by certifying approximately 645 students to teach in STEM fields in the last five years.

In addition to traditional teaching preparation programs, the college offers a number of routes to teacher certification in STEM areas, including a unique partnership with the College of Science called aggieTEACH, which allows students to become secondary math and science educators.

“Developing highly qualified STEM teachers is paramount to building a high-tech, highly valued workforce that will attract highly visible businesses, making Texas the national leader in STEM jobs,” Capraro says. “It is essential for Texas’ continued prosperity.”

Each summer, the college also hosts a two-week educational opportunity for approximately 70 high school students to develop their interests and abilities in STEM fields.

The Aggie-STEM Summer Camp provides real-world STEM activities, such as robotics and rocketry classes, and introduces students to STEM professions through discussions with Texas A&M professors actively working in STEM fields.

“Our goal is to provide an educational experience that is both entertaining and enlightening for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math,” Capraro says. “It is our hope that throughout the camp students are able to make connections to what STEM professionals actually do on the job.”

The summer camp is just one of many ways the College of Education and Human Development actively engages in STEM development and learning opportunities. The college also provides a variety of professional development opportunities to enhance the instructional skills of current STEM teachers. After all, quality STEM educators are the key to growing the number of students entering STEM professions.

Through the Aggie-STEM Center, a partnership of the College of Education and Human Development and the Dwight Look College of Engineering, STEM faculty research, create and provide professional development on the most effective teaching and learning strategies for math and science, and emphasize an educational model called project-based learning that relies on student projects over textbooks.

For the past six years, the center has been working with Waco, Harmony and Dallas schools to strengthen STEM achievement. Although data for the most recent STAR test has not yet been collected, after the 2011 round of TAKS testing and three to five years of Aggie-STEM Center intervention in the schools, one district experienced gains of 38 percent and 41 percent in math and science on their TAKS scores.

“The teachers with the best implementation – meaning they follow the project-based model closely – have the most gains in closing the achievement gap,” Capraro says.

Scott Slough, associate professor of science education, is one in a team of rotating instructors who leads a group of science teachers each summer on a science adventure aboard a research vessel named the JOIDES Resolution.

These educators are selected to participate in the School of Rock, a professional development workshop for science teachers and informal science educators from across the United States and the member nations of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Created in 2005, the School of Rock’s goal is to give science teachers hands-on research experience they can use to enhance their teaching.

The JOIDES Resolution sails around the world to study the history of the earth recorded in sediments and rocks beneath the ocean floor. It is equipped with 12 laboratories used to study the cores. While onboard, the teachers work on curriculum and instructional activities and create blogs and videos to share with their classes back home.

“The hands-on experiences offered through the School of Rock provide the teachers with insights they can’t get from traditional classroom learning,” Slough says. “My only regret is that we can’t replicate the experience for more teachers.”

Earlier this summer, approximately 24 teachers came to the Texas A&M campus to learn about earthquake engineering through the Earthquake Engineering Education Project. The week-long workshop increases high school teachers’ knowledge about earthquake engineering to enhance their students’ understanding about what engineers do on the job.

Carol Stuessy, associate professor of science education, explains that the workshop provides educators with the opportunity to collaborate with fellow teachers, develop learning activities to take back to their own classrooms and explore ways in which STEM is used to solve complex real-world problems.

“Research shows that students are more likely to learn and enjoy science if they can see how the subject affects their lives,” Stuessy says.

In this 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act, which sought to establish land-grant universities throughout the United States, the college continues its responsibility to be a leader among all Colleges of Education to meet the high demand for future STEM professionals by engaging in a number of STEM development and learning opportunities.