Answering a call to ensure Florida has the best educated workforce for our global knowledge economy, the University of Florida is launching a statewide effort to bolster teaching and learning in science and mathematics in the middle school and high school grades.
Officials with the university and the Florida Department of Education jointly announced this month that UF’s College of Education has been awarded a two-year, $2 million grant to create a research-based, professional development support system for new science and math teachers.
The project’s most noteworthy feature is the creation of prototype “teacher induction” programs to support teachers in their first two years on the job. Induction will involve online and face-to-face mentoring, professional development, and networking opportunities with their peers. Center faculty and staff also will assist partnering school districts in creating coaching programs for novice science and math teachers.
To coordinate the project, UF has established a program called Florida STEM-Teacher Induction and Professional Support, also known as Florida STEM-TIPS Center. STEM is a common acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics - key technical subject areas that Gov. Rick Scott has declared as a high priority in Florida’s public schools to support the growth of high-wage jobs in the private sector.
Griffith Jones, a UF science education professor and principal investigator of the project, will oversee development of statewide teacher induction activities. Jones said they will start in Dade, Duval and Palm Beach counties, where UF has existing partnerships with the local school districts, and then scale up to other interested districts throughout the state.
“The induction support activities will ensure that the training and collegial support of teachers-in-training won’t end at graduation, but will continue into their first two years of teaching,” Jones said. “We aim to work with districts to reverse the lack of teacher induction support that historically drives nearly one-third of new teachers from the classroom by their third year of teaching.”
Jones said induction activities for new math and science teachers will include professional-development training in new curriculum standards and high-engagement instructional practices, on-the-job training programs, and grade-specific mentoring.
UF professors with the center also will lead Webinars and create a Web-based gateway for collaborating and sharing information so science and math educators can network with peers across the state.
The need for reform in STEM teacher education is well documented. In Florida, fewer than half of all eighth graders have teachers who majored or minored in mathematics, according to Jones. Nationwide projections cite a need for 280,000 new math and science teachers by 2015.
Supported by the DOE grant, UF professors also will travel to state universities to share information on a highly touted STEM teacher preparation program called UTeach, which is the model for the University of Florida’s own “UFTeach” program. The UTeach model, created by University of Texas-Austin professors in 1997, recruits top science and math majors into teaching by offering a creative curriculum with progressively complex field experiences teaching those subjects in area schools.
“We are poised to make an important leap in STEM education in Florida,” said Tom Dana, UF professor of science education and co-director of UFTeach. “The STEM-TIPS program will allow us to assist other Florida universities who share a goal of reformed science and math teacher preparation.”
As part of the state grant, UF is providing technical assistance to Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne in developing a UTeach “replicate” program on their campus, according to Dana.
For more information, visit the Florida STEM-TIPS website at http://education.ufl.edu/stem-tips.