New program created to produce high-quality STEM teachers

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17

Some education experts have sounded the alarm in recent years, pointing to a shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educators throughout the country. FIU has answered the call and wants to be a part of the solution.

On Feb. 27, the university launched FIUTeach – the product of a five-year, $1.45 million grant to the university from the National Math and Science Institute (NMSI). The program will produce qualified math and science teachers in Miami for years to come.

“We’re going to join forces in this initiative to enhance the recruitment and preparation of math and science teachers for communities that are as diverse as ours,” FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said at the program’s kickoff event at the Stocker AstroScience Center. “We look forward to many successes ahead with this initiative. Let’s not just talk it now, let’s walk it.”

FIUTeach is part of NMSI’s national UTeach program, a secondary STEM teacher preparation initiative which aims to place more than 9,000 new math and science teachers in classrooms across the country by 2020.

“One of the unique things about FIU is its student population. We have one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation and we have become a replication model for what other places will be looking like in the future,” said Laird Kramer, director of the FIU STEM Transformation Institute. “If we can understand how to work with students from diverse backgrounds and understand how we can improve our science and math education system, then we are basically setting a model for the future.”

NMSI Executive Director of Teacher Programs Ronda Brandon believes FIU can be instrumental. “For us, FIU is really important because it is a minority majority university,” Brandon said. “There is such a need for more STEM educators, but particularity minority STEM educators so that students will have role models to follow.”

The FIU STEM Transformation Institute, in collaboration with College of Arts & Science and the College of Education, will coordinate the program. Together, they will work with students to develop their effective educational methods.

Working together with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, FIUTeach will serve as a pipeline of highly-skilled teachers to the fourth-largest school district in the country. The first cohort of students is slated to begin the program at the start of the Fall 2014 semester, and the program expects to graduate at least 50 students each year.

“I see this as yet another wonderful outcome of the partnership that we have with FIU,” said M-DCPS Associate Superintendent Pablo Ortiz. “Our school system is always looking for partnerships that allow outstanding applicants and candidates to step into our schools and walk into our classrooms. I know that it is going to make us better in the long run.”

Through the program, students will gain hands-on experience in the classroom to help them prepare for a potential career in teaching.

Step 1 of the program puts students in elementary classrooms as they learn about project-based instruction, how to develop lessons and material, and teaching lessons to elementary students.

In Step 2, students will continue to develop their lesson-planning skills as they go into middle school classrooms and become familiar with math and science curriculum at that level.

Throughout the program, master teachers who are extremely skilled and knowledgeable in their STEM field and have several years of experience public school teaching will provide students with mentorship and guidance. These master teachers, who will come from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, will become clinical faculty at the university and serve as models and guides for students as they navigate through the program and prepare to enter into a teaching career.

“Through these steps, they will start experiencing the rewards of teaching as they are learning to become teachers,” Laird said. “Expertise in teaching comes from knowing the content and how to apply the content, combining pedagogy and content coherently.”

And in many ways, the math and science teachers already in those classrooms will stand to benefit as well.

“FIU students are going to be, in a way, providing professional development back to those classroom teachers because they are going to be trying out the new strategies and ways of teaching that they are learning in the universities,” Brandon said.

The program allows students to continue to pursue a degree in their desired field of study, such as statistics or biology, while also attaining a teaching certification without adding time or expense to their four-year degree program.

Having both their degree and a teaching certification provides graduates of the program with numerous career options. “They can go into teaching, many of them do, they can go to graduate school or into a STEM career as some of them do,” Brandon said.