Academic journal article Science Educator

Mathematics and Science Teachers Professional Development with Local Businesses to Introduce Middle and High School Students to Opportunities in STEM Careers

Academic journal article Science Educator

Mathematics and Science Teachers Professional Development with Local Businesses to Introduce Middle and High School Students to Opportunities in STEM Careers

Article excerpt

Abstract

TechMath is a professional development program that forms collaborations among businesses, colleges, and schools for the purpose of promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. TechMath has provided strategies for creating high-quality professional development by bringing together teachers, students, and business partners to allow teachers to design Problem-Based Learning (PBL) modules. Teachers reported that their participation enhanced their understanding of business applications for mathematics and science instruction. Results from surveys, questionnaires, and focus group sessions prompted recommendations for researchers, administrators, and practitioners interested in preparing students for STEM careers.

Keywords: mathematics education, problem-based learning; professional development; science education; STEM

Introduction

According to employment projections, the fastest growing occupations are in the fields of computer technology, healthcare, and engineering (United States Department of Labor, 2010-2011). Yet, fewer students appear to be self-selecting for the advanced study in science and mathematics content areas (Mahoney, 2010) needed for these positions. Providing high-quality professional development (PD) focused on motivating students to become interested in pursuing employment in engineering, mathematics or other STEM-related fields could help to bridge the gap between student interest and workforce needs.

More research is needed to determine the necessary elements of highquality PD that promote explorations in STEM careers. An alarming number of science and mathematics educators are not prepared to teach about STEM careers and addressing this problem will require more than a sudden boost of discipline-specific content knowledge (Bybee & Loucks-Horsley, 2000). Furthermore, PD should not only further a teacher's expertise in knowing content, but also growth and mastery of teaching strategies reflective of the best research and educational practices that focus on quality PD to promote STEM careers (Little, 1993; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1993; Tiberius, 2002). Therefore, it is essential that PD experiences include knowing content in conjunction with theory and practice among multiple professionals in STEM (Wassermann, 2009). In this way, PD can better meet the needs of teachers and the business community (Moore, 2008; Lee, 2004/2005).

During PD, educators should interact with colleagues to discuss occupational concerns and strategies to serve academically diverse students (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, &Yoon, 2001; Little, 1993;Talbert&McLaughlin, 1993). Garet et al. (2001) contend that PD should shift to focus on content standards, coherent learning opportunities, teacher interactions, and measurement of teacher outcomes. PD should encourage constructive feedback to assess new pedagogical practices to prepare parents and students for changes in curricula and, collectively, these elements of PD should prepare teachers to guide students into future careers (Lee, 2004/2005; Little, 1993; Tiberius, 2002).

Problem-Based Learning

To address the need for this type of PD, the TechMath program incorporated Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as an approach to making teachers aware of STEM opportunities for students. PBL allows teachers to engage students in investigations related to science, technology engineering and mathematics and is organized around a real-life problem. PBL promotes student-centered instruction and small-group learning environments, with teachers providing guidance (Drake & Long, 2009; Glazewski & Ertmer, 2010; Lee & Bae, 2007; Sungur, Tekkaya & Geban, 2006).

PBL motivates students to learn in a broad range of content areas by examining and proposing solutions (Harland, 2002; Spronken-Smith, 2005; Willis, 2002). For example, Drake and Long (2009) found that fourth grade students learning science through PBL were able to generate a greater variety of strategies to solve a problem while spending more time on task than a comparable group learning science through direct instruction. …

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