The University of Central Arkansas math and science majors are getting the chance to obtain their teaching licensure while going to Faulkner County schools to conduct hands-on, engaging lessons in the UCA’s STEMteach program.
STEMteach is the higher education component of Governor Mike Beebe’s STEM Works, an initiative to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in high schools and universities.
“Our mission is to get well prepared math and science teachers into the pipeline so they can go to public schools to be able to continue other initiatives,” said Gary Bunn, co-director of STEMteach representing the college of education.
UCA’s program started Fall of 2012 with 19 students in the class. One year later, the class had 51 students. There are more than 70 students still in the program today.
“We have every reason to believe that that trajectory will continue until we eventually get to the point that we have our own college,” Bunn said.
There are 35 universities across the country that currently implement the program. The first program was started at the University of Texas, Austin.
All students in the program are earning bachelors of science or math degrees, but the STEMteach program gives them the extra option of teaching, Bunn said.
“We’re not asking people to give up their other dreams,” he said. “People come to college with dreams of becoming a doctor or lawyer, and teacher doesn’t fit into that dream often times, but once we give them the experience of being in the classroom and they see that excitement, they love this.”
Audie Alumbaugh, a master teacher of STEMteach said this program isn’t an easy way for students to obtain their teaching license because the student must do the majority of the math and science certification work on their own.
“We’re in not only for quantity of math and science teachers,” she said. “We also want quality.”
Traditional undergraduate education programs begin with coursework, Bunn said. Then, typically in an undergraduate’s junior year, the student is sent out for their first internship.
“We start in the field,” he said. “We’re only five or six weeks into the semester, and our students are already in schools teaching lessons.”
UCA students actively go to Conway Christian School and Carolyn Lewis Elementary in Conway as well as schools in the Mt. Vernon-Enola School District, Vilonia School District, Little Rock School District and Greenbrier Public Schools.
“We’re sending 18-year-old freshman into schools to teach lessons,” Bunn said.
The lessons are prepared, planned and vetted, so when the students go to the schools they have quality questioning and inquiry based instructions to apply to an authentic classroom setting, Alumbaugh said.
In Step 1 of the STEMteach program, students teach children in an elementary setting, third and fourth grade. Step 2 involves middle school children, fifth through eighth grade.
Students go to the classrooms in pairs. With 25 teams in Step 1, eight teams in Step 2 and one group of three, there are 67 STEMteach students teaching math and science in central Arkansas schools.
“They’re all math and science lessons, but they’re all inquiry based, so they’re all investigative and hands-on,” Bunn said.
Monday morning, Alumbaugh and UCA sophomore science major Courtney Briggler brought a lesson to Carolyn Lewis Elementary where 22 third graders closed a circuit to power a light bulb.
Bunn described the experiments done in the classroom as “hands on, minds on.” “It’s very much about developing problem solvers,” he said.
The student teachers use a model of engage, explore, explanation and extend when teaching a lesson.
“[The students] are not told what to think, they get to be free thinkers,” Alumbaugh said. “They can’t make a mistake. They just get to explore the concepts and make their own connections. The teacher is more of a guide.”
After the children have experimented and explored with their materials, the teachers go back and explain to the children what they experienced during the experiment. The teachers will then extend that knowledge and show the children what else can be done with that particular scientific concept or principle.
Starting out, Briggler said, on a scale of 1-5, her confidence level was at a 1, but by the end of the experience it was a 4 or 5.
In the beginning the students were really frustrated but once they figured the experiment out, Briggler said, they loved it and were asking if they could take it home to show their moms.
“In the information age, answers are readily available,” Bunn said. “It’s the questions that are hard to come by, so we’re teaching them how to find the right questions. If you can ask the right questions, you can come up with the answers.”
Bunn said about 43 percent of students who start the STEMteach program complete the program, and 80 percent of students who complete the program go into teaching with 90 percent still teaching five years later.
Students teach three lessons each semester. Putting more than 100 hands-on, engaging lessons into Faulkner County classrooms each year.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215.)