NSF Grants Aims to Fast-Track STEM Teacher Training to Fill Gaps

A grant-funded program in a Georgia university is combining tuition, mentoring, professional development opportunities and extra pay to grow the number of STEM-certified teachers in the state. The College of Education at the University of West Georgia recently received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the program, which is intended for non-education bachelor degree-holders who want to get teacher certification to teach in high-need schools. Dianne Hoff, dean of the college, is serving as the principal investigator.

Students enrolled in a fast-track version of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program will have most of their tuition and fees covered. The MAT program will include advanced STEM content and pedagogical content coursework, inquiry-based instruction, intensive coaching and all-day internship and student teaching experiences. They'll be joining a learning community that includes "exemplary teachers, school administrators, university faculty and community leaders," according to the grant proposal. Fellows will receive access to emerging technologies in the college's Innovations Lab, including robotics and maker gear, and UWGLive, which features immersive mixed-reality environments.

After they finish, fellows will gain access to a mentoring program and professional development opportunities. The focus there, according to Co-principal Investigator Anne Gaquere-Parker, is to ensure "continuing quality support even after they have entered the teaching profession." Nonprofit West Georgia Youth Science & Technology Center will provide professional development during the post-certification years along with the Carrollton-Carroll County Education Collaborative.

The overarching goal of the project is to "recruit, prepare, and sustain" 20 STEM-certified master teachers who will serve as teacher-leaders in high schools in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences and mathematics. Those participating in the program are asked to commit to teaching in a high-needs school district somewhere in Georgia, where they'll receive a $10,000 salary stipend for up to four years following graduation. However, under the grant, the college will be working with local high-need schools in Carrollton County, where many of the recipients could be placed.

The courses are primarily delivered online, with a smattering of in-person classes and clinical experience.

"The demand for qualified science and mathematics teachers in Georgia is extremely high and growing," said Jennifer Edelman, chair of the college's Department of Early Childhood through Secondary Education. "We know our K-12 students need to be prepared for success in a modern workforce that values scientific thinking, technological innovation and problem-solving. Having qualified STEM-certified teachers in every secondary math and science classroom in Georgia will help students achieve that success."

According to a report by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, over the past two years, math teacher vacancies have averaged 246 in grades 6-12 and 164 in grades 4-8; average science teacher vacancies were 157 in grades 6-12 and 152 in grades 4-8.

"I was driven to write this grant because, sadly, the shortage of qualified teachers in STEM disciplines continues. This leads to fewer children becoming excited about math and science, which over time will have a negative effect on the quality of Georgia's workforce," said Hoff, in a statement. "This incentive will help us build a strong pipeline of STEM teachers for Georgia's schools."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.