Studer Community Institute

College coalition enhances STEM education

  • October 15, 2015
  • /   Reggie Dogan
  • /   education

Acronyms are the alphabet soup of education.

AYP, FSA, ACT, AEP, the collection of terms and abbreviations seems endless.

One that has gotten attention of late is STEM, a cool and clever term that brings together Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Some schools add an “A” for the Arts, to make STEAM.

Whether STEM or STEAM, we all can agree that in this day and age it’s vital for students to study and learn these skill sets to prepare them for careers in the high-tech driven job market of the 21st century.

But ask any school leader, and he or she will tell you it’s about as hard to find qualified teachers in the math and science fields as it is to learn the education acronyms.

With apologies to Flannery O’Conner, a good STEM teacher is hard to find.

But there’s help on the way.

A coalition of Northwest Florida colleges is working to put more STEM teachers in the classroom by increasing the number of middle and high school teachers in science and math.

The effort is made possible by a $125,000 grant awarded in September from the National Science Foundation.

Led by University of West Florida professors John Pecore and Jaromy Kuhl, the education initiative will include faculty from Pensacola State College and Northwest Florida State College, along with half-dozen science leaning centers and the Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton County school districts.

The grant also will help in recruiting and mentoring STEM students who have interest in careers in secondary STEM education.

Research shows that the best math and science teachers must be well prepared in both pedagogy and subject matter content. They need to know how to motivate and engage students intellectually, how to use prior knowledge, how to show them to use evidence and make sense of inquiries.

The notion of using sheer rote memorization, regurgitation and too much mindless testing can turn off the better students from science.

To that end, the interest in STEM education and the extra effort in finding STEM educators is timely and needed.

In the 2012-2013 school year, Florida fell short by 124 science and 118 math teachers, according to data from the state Department of Education.

Recruiting and retaining teachers continue to be a problem statewide and across the country.

Nationwide, nearly half of teachers leave the profession within their first year on the job, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The hope is the coalition’s efforts to recruit more math and science teachers will go a long way in fixing the problem in two ways: by providing early field experiences for students find out if teaching is right for them, and by supporting those who want to teach with mentors to guide them through the hardships of the first-year classroom experience.

Acronyms aside, the focus on science, technology, engineering and math for the 21st  century classroom is welcome.

Call it curricular reform. Call it a fad. Call it NAA (not another acronym!).

Whatever you call it, the STEM initiative is making a difference, one student, one teacher, one school and one district at a time.

Give the Northwest Florida colleges a hand for offering a helping hand.

Let's move full STEAM ahead!