The preparation of math and science teachers and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education overall has become a priority as national and international reports of student achievement continue to document the US decline in international competitiveness on assessments. More than most states, Tennessee faces educational challenges, particularly in math and science. Tennessee does not produce enough well-prepared math and science teachers, and national metrics indicate that our state’s performance in math and science is near the bottom of the fifty states.
As the flagship public university of Tennessee, UT Knoxville has the responsibility to have the best and most rigorous teacher preparation program in our state. We can succeed in that goal by making certain that future teachers have strong major programs in their content disciplines and that the teaching used in our own STEM courses reflect the latest knowledge and understanding of effective pedagogy. Given the strength and capacity of its STEM and education faculty and programs, UT is well positioned to provide both state and national leadership in response to this need for increasing both the quality and quantity of STEM education.
The Center for Enhancing Education in Mathematics and Sciences (CEEMS) was established in 2010 to serve as the organizational unit for projects related to mathematics and science education and the discovery of new strategies that generate effective STEM education in the P–16 arena. CEEMS serves as an interdisciplinary base for the development of proposals to secure external funding for STEM education projects. The intention of the center is to use these funds not only to prepare effective P–12 STEM teachers, but also to identify, implement, and evaluate the efficacy of novel training strategies and lesson plans that serve the goals of P–16 education in Tennessee.
As a first step to achieving these outcomes, the center was established to form a collaborative unit between the colleges of Arts and Sciences (CA&S) and Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS) to strengthen STEM education in P–16 settings and to secure external funding for innovative STEM teacher preparation programs. Over time, CEEMS will broaden its partnerships and become connected with other units on campus that have a compatible mission, such as the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR), the College of Engineering, and the Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage Using Outreach, Research and Education (TN-SCORE).
The university has made a substantial facilities investment in CEEMS because of its initial successes and critical role in assisting the federally funded effort, First to the Top, to improve P–12 education in the Tennessee. Future plans are underway in order to engage in First to the Top STEM-related opportunities, such a collaboration with Knox County Schools in the development and implementation of the STEM Academy; develop a STEM hub in this region of the state; strengthen our partnerships with local education agencies; and expand the development and dissemination of the Biology in a Box program. Currently, Biology in a Box materials and lesson plan sets are in use by more than eighty local education agencies throughout Tennessee. Teachers and students alike report great satisfaction in using these materials that enable students to engage in hands-on, problem-based learning. Another STEM education proposal focuses on the use of wetlands as a part of an elementary-level science program.
Two external awards that support STEM teacher preparation programs are VolsTeach, a replication of the UTeach model of STEM teacher preparation established at the University of Texas, and Teach/Here, based on an urban teacher residency model for post-baccalaureate STEM majors. The hope is that this project will do much to attract, prepare, and retain the services of superbly qualified high school math and science teachers in high-need urban and rural schools. Future funding would allow for support of outreach activities, scholarship support, and professional development following their placement in high-needs schools, as well as the development of a research methods course and seminar series that will help prepare all VolsTeach program students for engaging their future students in STEM inquiry.
CEEMS goals for the next five years include:
- To submit a minimum of one proposal per year to support STEM teacher preparation and the study of effective and innovative educational strategies.
- To partner with the College of Engineering to develop a minimum of one proposal per year that involves engineering in STEM teacher preparation that emphasizes the application of scientific and mathematical knowledge.
- To identify one or more sources from which to secure funds to expand and research the efficacy of the Biology in a Box program.
- To develop and maintain effective communications with project officers of potential funding sources.
- To provide a source of outreach partners for UT STEM faculty seeking such affiliations for their research proposals.