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Community Colleges Assume Growing Role In Training STEM Educators

A nationwide shortage of qualified science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers has led to sustained efforts to recruit and retain additional teachers in these critical areas. Community college teacher education programs are addressing this shortage with innovative programs, strong partnerships and transfer programs with four-year schools.

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Fostering an interest in STEM careers is among the goals of community college teacher education programs.

Community Colleges Assume Growing Role In Training STEM Educators

A nationwide shortage of qualified science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers has led to sustained efforts to recruit and retain additional teachers in these critical areas. Community college teacher education programs are addressing this shortage with innovative programs, strong partnerships and transfer programs with four-year schools.

What follows is a sample of programs at three community colleges striving to accomplish the goal of recruiting and training STEM educators. All three schools are members of the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP). NACCTEP is an organization of community college teacher education and early childhood program administrators, faculty, staff and students. It shares resources among members, maintains a strong partnership with the National Science Foundation and serves as a voice for community college in national discussions about teacher education. For additional information on NACCTEP visit the website at www.nacctep.org.

Sample Programs:
 Rio Salado College  Cerritos College  Maryland Students

By Kimberly Tobey
Director of Teacher Education Innovations and Initiatives, Rio Salado College
Executive Director, NAACTEP

Rio Salado College has been influencing the world of post-baccalaureate pre-service teacher training at the community college level for more than a decade. Based on Rio’s standing as a leader in online learning and as a provider of cost-effective certification coursework — having certified more than 2,000 students in Arizona and across the nation — it seemed only reasonable to fuse Rio’s quality program with the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. 

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Through the award of Science and Math Innovative Learning Environments (SMILE) Program for Encore Careers in Education, a NSF $1.2 million grant, Rio’s teacher education program has begun to focus its recruiting efforts on math and science industry experts and formalize coursework and field experiences that highlight strategies for working within high-need school districts across Arizona. Over the last 12 years, Rio has certified almost 300 STEM classroom teachers. The SMILE program will add an additional 40 math and science teachers to the education workforce over the next four years. 

Members of the first SMILE cohort, who began in August 2011, bring with them varied backgrounds, ranging from chemical, electrical, and metallurgical engineering to biological and environmental sciences. They have years of work experience in Arizona corporations such as Honeywell, Phelps Dodge Mining, and Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Corp. 

The program is building capacity between industry and local education organizations by certifying STEM professionals who are approaching retirement, or are recently retired, and pairing them with master math or science teachers in high-need school districts. They are combining their strong content expertise with the experience of STEM classroom teachers who can share a passion for learning and strong pedagogical knowledge. While the program is not limited to retirees, a large percentage of Rio’s applicants are retired and seeking encore career paths that provide opportunities for them to give back to society and influence the next generation of STEM leaders.

Robert Noyce Scholars are provided with a stipend to cover tuition, fees, technology, conferences, professional association memberships and travel. The hybrid format — online coursework blended with various in-person requirements — provides for greater flexibility for the scholars to complete the program anywhere in the state and influence their local communities with their expertise. 

Rio, through both its traditional post-baccalaureate certification process and NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, is able to support the federal government’s position of promoting STEM in our K-12 classrooms. Rio’s SMILE program is designed to influence and support new federal initiatives that will ultimately impact our nation’s school children and allow us to be competitive in the global economy.

By Sue Parsons
Director, Teacher TRAC and Learning Communities Programs
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Cerritos College

Established in 1999, the Teacher TRAC Program is one of Cerritos College’s premier programs, committed to the recruitment, development and preparation of quality teachers for the local community, the larger region and the state. Early fieldwork experiences are a crucial component of the Teacher TRAC framework. In addition, Teacher TRAC offers several STEM internship opportunities. The internships originated with funding support from the NSF, Boeing Foundation, Union Bank, California Community College Chancellor’s Office, California State University Math Science Initiative and the James Irvine Foundation.

Currently, the Teacher TRAC Program offers four different STEM internship opportunities.

Our Special Education Teacher Internship Program addresses both the underprepared special education workforce, and the critical shortage of teachers with math and science backgrounds. Students work as interns in local schools in inclusive classrooms under the direction of mentor master teachers. As interns, students get to hone their skills in math and science by tutoring children with special needs, including developmentally disabled children, slow learners, ELL students, children with autism and those with other mild to moderate learning difficulties. Math and science are often the most difficult for students with special needs to grasp. Mentors working alongside students help create a bridge between academic knowledge and teaching methodology to insure a cohesive approach between the principles of instruction and their application.

The Career Technical Education (CTE) Teacher Pathway internships include workshops focusing on contextualizing math and science in the classroom. To address the need and desire to enhance science and math competencies among all CTE students, interns attend a series of workshops focusing on pedagogy and contextualizing math and science in the classroom. In addition to a 40+ hour internship in their own discipline, five hours of observational experiences are required in an interdisciplinary context. This provides the opportunity to witness the application of contextualized curriculum in the classroom and creates an environment of inter-disciplinary understanding. That is, math and science interns observe in industrial technology classrooms and industry technology interns observe in math and science classrooms.

The annual Summer Middle School GATE Academy objective is to address both math/science preparation of middle school students and increase the supply of qualified math and science teachers. Interns for the academy are hired as assistant professors and are part of a teaching team that includes a middle school teacher and a professor from the college. Through active, inquiry-based activities and collaborative learning, each summer 50 middle school students are afforded the opportunity to develop conceptual understanding of major math concepts and relate and apply them to modeling and solving problems. The academy offers an invaluable professional development opportunity for our interns. They participate in training prior to the academy and work along-side mentor teachers during the Academy to facilitate small group explorations and labs. All academy professors and assistant professors meet daily preceding and directly following the academy for reflection and debriefing.

One of our new internship opportunities consists of 100 hours of experience in a Linked Learning High School STEM Academy. The internship includes time in the student’s own discipline and one or more linked courses, as well as afterschool experiences assisting high school students on their project based activities for a comprehensive understanding of the Linked Learning Model.

The Teacher TRAC Program STEM internships afford math and science majors as well as prospective elementary and secondary school teachers the opportunity to explore STEM teaching. Active, inquiry based activities give them the opportunity to become reflective practitioners and deepen their understanding of educational practices and issues as they analyze, synthesize, and summarize their experiences and reflect on what successful teachers need to know and be able to do.

By Colleen Eisenbeiser
Director, TEACH Institute
Anne Arundel Community College


Like the rest of the nation, Maryland faces a crisis in staffing its classrooms with qualified and effective teachers who facilitate STEM learning and cultivate an interest in STEM-related careers. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has declared the STEM subjects as critical shortage areas in all of its 24 public school systems. The Governor’s STEM Task Force identified a need for expansion of the capacity of Maryland’s teacher preparation programs to produce more certified STEM teachers. Work began several years ago to fill this void when numerous two- and four-year chemistry, math and physics faculty began meeting in subject-specific groups to determine the content outcomes of the first two years of a teacher education program in these areas. Simultaneously, education professors from community colleges and four-year colleges and universities across the state convened to address the education-related outcomes that should be met relevant to teaching at the secondary level. These efforts modeled those that produced the state’s first fully transferable degree, the Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT) Elementary.

Once the outcomes were determined, education directors at the community colleges worked on their own campuses to build the programs, which were ultimately approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. To date, nine of the state’s 16 community colleges offer the AAT secondary chemistry degree; 10 provide the AAT secondary math; and eight have the AAT secondary physics. These degree programs provide an affordable and accessible pathway for students to begin their academic pursuit toward teaching in the STEM content areas.

Some Maryland community colleges play another role in increasing the number of quality STEM teachers. To address concerns about the teacher shortage, MSDE developed the Maryland Approved Alternative Preparation Program (MAAPP), another avenue to certification for individuals with bachelor’s degrees. A MAAPP is a partnership program between a school system and an institute of higher education or a private provider. Two Maryland community colleges have such partnerships with their local school systems. Staff from both Montgomery College’s Education Department and Anne Arundel Community College’s TEACH Institute work closely with the human resources departments of their school systems to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.

These colleges provide the requisite coursework as well as mentoring prior to and during the candidates’ internship and residency phases of the program. These programs have allowed an array of individuals to enter teaching who bring unique knowledge from previous STEM related employment. The certified teachers, who came through these programs, include a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. These career changing teachers can share their real world experience with students and relate content to authentic situations making STEM content come alive.

Though not all of the community colleges in Maryland have a MAAPP or offer the three STEM-related AAT degrees for secondary education, each college does offer the original AAT for elementary education and most have the AAT for early childhood education. Within both of these degrees, students are required to earn 12 credits in math and 12 credits in lab sciences to instill in these future teachers an interest in these areas as well as a sturdy foundation in STEM.

It’s YOUR TURN  CCW wants  to hear from you!
Q: What is your college doing to increase the supply of STEM teachers?
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