FIU’s new approach to teaching sends scientists into the classroom

MIAMI Florida International University’s College of Arts and Sciences has joined forces with the College of Education to transform science and math education and graduate scientists poised to become trailblazing teachers in their fields.

Through FIU’s new secondary teacher education programs, the College of Arts and Sciences prepares students in their chosen science or math subject area, while the College of Education gives them the tools they will need in the classroom. By choosing new integrated education programs in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and earth sciences, students will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in their chosen discipline and will be eligible to obtain a full professional teaching certificate from the state of Florida. A biological sciences education program will be proposed soon as well.These teacher preparation programs are currently going through the state approval and accreditation process. They are unique among South Florida universities and could serve as a national model. The first graduates are expected in 2011.

The programs are an example of how FIU is engaging the community, fostering partnerships and looking for innovative ways to help address South Florida’s most-pressing challenges in public education, from early education to Ph.D. programs.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ken Furton said the new programs demonstrate the continuing commitment to teacher education by FIU, whose graduates account for more than half of the teachers in Miami-Dade Public Schools, the fourth largest school system in the nation. When reductions in state funding for public universities threatened to close some education programs, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education worked together to revamp the university’s teacher education programs. Programs also are planned in History, Geography, and Political Science for Social Studies certification and in English.

“We recognize the important role FIU plays in educating our community’s teachers,” Furton said. “We saw this as an opportunity to continue that commitment to our community by finding new ways to produce high quality teachers who are passionate about their subject areas and will pass on their love of learning to their students.”

College of Education Interim Dean Marie McDemmond, whose career spans from teaching in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to the presidency of Norfolk State University, said this new model will infuse the teaching profession with the expertise needed to raise students’ academic standings in math and science.

“I think this is the way we must grow our next generation of teachers,” McDemmond said. “You can’t teach physics if you don’t know the content matter and since this new format will make our students eligible to receive their teaching credentials, our graduates will have a strong and versatile resume from the get-go. I think that’s what students want today.”

In an effort to boost the number of math and science teachers, the new education programs include a component that allows students to “test drive” teaching through a no-strings-attached experience. The top students in introductory math and science classes will be invited to participate in a teaching seminar. The seminar gives students a hands-on introduction to teaching and an opportunity to work as paid lab assistants, where they guide their peers.

“These innovative educational techniques, which are student-centered and rely on learning through authentic experiences, will instill the best education practices in our students, thus impacting our future teachers, their future students, and the South Florida community as a whole,” said Laird Kramer, associate professor of physics and co-leader of the team that developed the new programs.

Increasing the number of math and science teachers who are well-versed in their subject areas is a major goal of the program. Kramer cited an American Institute of Physics study that found fewer than one-third of physics teachers in the United States have degrees in physics.

“We want our future teachers to learn what it is to be a scientist and to be scientific in their teaching,” Kramer said. “They can then pass on that knowledge and experience to their students.”

The new education programs extend beyond the classroom and include mentoring for aspiring teachers during their university years and as they enter their profession. Students in the Physics program are also eligible for up to $10,000/year scholarships, for up to two years, funded through the National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Scholarship. Physics education programs across the country that have employed techniques similar to the ones in the FIU programs have seen their physics teacher graduates triple, on average. Some have seen a six-fold increase. Similar results have been seen in other disciplines in universities such as the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Texas at Austin.

The new programs are part of a larger initiative to transform science and mathematics education at FIU and capitalize on federal investments in the university. The National Science Foundation has invested more than $9 million in FIU projects that support future scientists and science and mathematics teachers. Additional support has been provided by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) and the U.S. Department of Education.

The inroads FIU faculty and administrators have made in transforming science and mathematics preparation at FIU and in the local high schools have earned the university a national reputation and a seat on the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative Leadership Collaborative (SMTI). SMTI is a nationwide effort to increase the quantity and quality of science and mathematics teachers and is operated by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.


Media Contact: Madeline Baró, 305-348-2234

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