PAGE 6 OF 6
Roehrig runs one of them, an induction program for middle and high school STEM teachers in Minnesota. Mentors and new teachers in the Teacher Induction Network can hold video chats using Skype-like technology, share lesson plans via Google Docs, or take part in virtual classroom observation. Rookies videotape themselves teaching, post the video, and then peers and mentors use video annotation technology to comment on the teacher’s interactions with the students. “It’s as good as, if not better than, being in a classroom,” Roehrig says. And it makes effective mentoring possible even when the beginning science teachers work in northern Minnesota, hundreds of miles from her university’s Minneapolis campus.
With budgets tight everywhere, district training programs have to do more with less. Anita O’Neill supervises professional development programs in science, technology, and engineering for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, a district with 200 schools and about 600 teachers at each grade level. In 2006, she and project manager Mary Doran Brown began building a district-wide cadre of teacher leaders to help train their elementary school peers to teach science better—and they are moving it online.
They recruited prospective teacher leaders from 90 of the district’s 131 elementary schools—not all of them, as they had hoped. Then, with HHMI support, they trained those teachers to help colleagues at their respective schools teach inquiry-based science lessons. At some elementary schools, the teacher leaders got their colleagues to take students to annual “inquiry conferences” at a local college. There, the students presented a science project to their peers and fielded questions from them, just as practicing scientists do at a scientific conference. The program lasted four years until the district’s budget tightened in 2010.
To affordably reach the district’s throng of elementary school teachers, O’Neill’s team enlisted its teacher leaders to help move the training online. At a summer workshop, teacher leaders from elementary and middle schools learned to videotape a lesson, edit the video, and then post it as an example of effective teaching. Ultimately, O’Neill’s team wants an interactive website for all K–12 teachers that allows them to review the district’s science, technology, and engineering curriculum and plan lessons or learn inquiry-based teaching in line with national standards. “Our vision is a professional learning community,” O’Neill says.
To change science and math teaching nationwide, though, there’s really no substitute for investment. And no state has invested as much as Alabama. Thanks to an enthusiastic state superintendent and a powerful booster group that included leaders of the state’s high-tech businesses, Alabama has invested up to $46 million per year in the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), says Steve Ricks, who directs the program at the state’s education department. AMSTI employs 850 teacher trainers to train up to 8,500 K–12 science and math teachers each year, offering them subject-specific, grade-specific mentoring. Since 1999 they’ve trained half the STEM teachers in the state, Ricks says. Teachers come for two-week workshops for two consecutive summers. AMSTI also employs 300 master science or master math teachers who advise and mentor teachers and even co-teach if the mentees need a hand. AMSTI operates 11 regional 35,000-square-foot warehouses, where workers run forklifts to help sort bins of laboratory materials and equipment designated for math and science teachers.
The state’s investment is paying off in better student performance, according to eight years of external evaluations. For example, Alabama students improved more in math than those in all but one other state, as judged by an internationally recognized test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “The state has seen that if you really want students to compete, they need top-notch math and science skills,” says Ricks.
Wendy Bramlett, who used AMSTI to raise her game, is a fan. “My whole way of teaching changed,” she says. “I went from a lecture class to no lecture and all hands on,” she says. Her students’ performance has improved—92 percent scored at the top level on the state science exam last year. And she hears something else she never heard in her first years of teaching. “I have children tell me, ‘Science is my favorite subject.’”