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NC State Gets Grant To Transform Elementary STEM Teaching

A five-year study at North Carolina State University could help reverse the nation’s decline in production of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

NC State will gauge whether its elementary teacher preparation model – which provides more rigorous undergraduate coursework in science and math disciplines than other elementary teacher preparation programs – can be combined with more careful tracking of first- and second-year teachers to positively impact student achievement.

Project ATOMS (Accomplished Elementary Teachers of Mathematics and Science) is fueled by a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The goal is to improve the ability of teachers to provide high-quality science and mathematics education for all students.

Dr. Ellen McIntyre, head of the elementary education department at NC State and the primary investigator for the grant, says the study shines a spotlight on how teacher-education programs prepare teachers for careers in the classroom. Providing elementary-school students with better experiences in science and mathematics could be a way to increase interest in science careers.

“Without a firm foundation in elementary school, we can’t get young people interested in entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the so-called STEM disciplines,” McIntyre says. “But we realize, too, that elementary-school teachers need to have stronger knowledge of science and math subjects and need to be better able to successfully teach this content to young children and get them excited about science and math.”

The multi-part study will examine NC State elementary education majors’ content knowledge, or how well the soon-to-be-teachers understand science and mathematics content; how they use that knowledge most effectively in the classroom; and the performance of these undergraduates as they do their student teaching.

Then, after the NC State students have graduated, the study will follow them into their new workplaces – the classroom – to observe how effective their teaching style and methods are when compared with teachers who haven’t gone through the same teacher preparation. That also means comparing end-of-grade test scores of K-5 students in the experimental groups with test scores of K-5 students in a control group of classes with teachers who didn’t receive the NC State training.

“Elementary-school teachers are generally highly motivated and love children, but they tend to be mediocre or weak in science,” McIntyre says. “NC State requires elementary-education students to take rigorous STEM classes – including calculus – as part of their general education requirements. Thanks to assistance from collaborators across campus, including those from the mathematics and physics departments and our engineering and design colleges, some of these classes were developed especially with elementary-school teachers in mind.”

McIntyre adds that the project, if deemed successful by the study results, should be relatively easily replicated by other elementary teacher preparation programs.

“We want to find out if a program like this prepares teachers better in STEM fields and if it makes a difference in elementary student learning and performance,” McIntyre says. “If it works, it could become a model for training elementary-school teachers.”

– kulikowski –