News 2011: UMass Dartmouth awarded $3.5 million by National Science Foundation to improve science and math education

News 2011: UMass Dartmouth awarded $3.5 million by National Science Foundation to improve science and math education
UMass Dartmouth awarded $3.5 million by National Science Foundation to improve science and math education

Grants awarded to Center for University, School, and Community Partnerships and Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education will focus on teacher development and improving teaching strategies in New Bedford, Fall River, and Wareham

UMass Dartmouth's School for Education, Public Policy, and Civic Engagement (SEPPCE) has been awarded a total of $3.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation aimed at improving K-12 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

"Creating first-rate science and math learning opportunities in high-need school districts is both an economic and moral imperative,'' said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. "We are excited to collaborate with our partners in the community to equip educators with cutting edge knowledge and strategies to excite their students about math and science.''

SEPPCE's Center for University, School, and Community Partnerships (CUSP) was awarded six-year $2.86 million grant as part of a "Teach SouthCoast-STEM" collaboration with SEPPCE, the University's College of Engineering, the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford, and the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, CA. Under the program, teachers in New Bedford, Fall River and Wareham will undergo intense and accelerated training in the teaching of STEM subjects and be required to serve in SouthCoast school systems with a demonstrated need for improvement.

SEPPCE's Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education, meanwhile, was awarded a three-year $600,000 NSF grant to study how middle school math teachers can do a better job teaching complex topics to their students.

Both grant awards follow the recent announcement of a partnership between UMass Dartmouth, the Ocean Explorium, and the Global Learning Charter Public School establish charter school classrooms in the downtown Ocean Explorium to excite students about science and regional history.

Congressional delegation praises UMass Dartmouth STEM initiatives
"If we're going to win this century, we've got to excel in math and science, period," said Senator John Kerry. "This is a direct investment in keeping Massachusetts ahead of the pack in life sciences, research, and innovation."

"This is really exciting news for Bay State schools," said Senator Scott Brown. "Equipping our teachers with advanced training and new tools for their classrooms means our children will have access to high quality education in math and science."

"I am pleased that the National Science Foundation has recognized the excellent work being done at UMass Dartmouth to help improve math and science education in our local schools, said Congressman Barney Frank, whose district includes Dartmouth and New Bedford. "This investment of federal funds will provide long-lasting benefits to our teachers, schools and communities.
"It's essential that we prepare our students for the realities of the 21st Century economy," said Congressman Jim McGovern, whose district includes Fall River. "Federal funding to improve STEM education is an important component of that effort. I want to commend UMass Dartmouth and their partners for their innovative approach to this issue."

"Investing in STEM education better prepares our students for the science and technology jobs of tomorrow," said Congressman Bill Keating. "UMass Dartmouth will use this award to support teachers and students throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, resulting in long lasting economic benefits for the Commonwealth."

More about Teach SouthCoast-STEM
The Kaput Center award came under the auspices of the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

"With this grant, we will prepare and support STEM educators in engaging their students, fostering higher achievement in the classroom, while also learning new lessons about teaching STEM subjects to a new generation of students," said CUSP Director Karen O'Connor. "Well-informed and inspired teachers can make a difference that has an enormous ripple effect among students and colleagues." "The collaborative effort of the University and our partners can help transform the aspirations of students for college-level and career-oriented success in the STEM fields."

TSC-STEM will be overseen by O'Connor in collaboration with Dr. Tesfay Meressi, Associate Dean of the School of Engineering; and Mark Smith, executive director of Ocean Explorium in New Bedford. The program director is Tyra Lopes Mendes, who has spent the past four years at CUSP directing a school-embedded teacher licensure program.

Targeted schools include: Fall River, New Bedford, and Wareham middle and high schools, along with the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, and the New Bedford Global Learning Charter Public School. While in the schools, the teachers will conduct research that identifies successful teaching strategies.

In early fall, CUSP will begin recruiting candidates for a TSC-STEM program start date of June 2012. Once accepted into the program, Teaching Fellows will earn an Initial Teaching License and a Master of Arts in Teaching within 15 months. This is an accelerated schedule that includes a full year of teaching residency in a high-need school. The grant will cover the program participants' coursework expenses and other professional learning experiences. Each Teaching Fellow will receive a $10,000 annual salary supplement while fulfilling a four-year teaching commitment in a high need school district.

The TSC-STEM grant also includes funding for a select number of Master Teaching Fellows from partner districts to earn a graduate-level 12-credit Teacher Leadership Certificate, as well as a $10,000 annual salary supplement while they are fulfilling a five-year teaching/mentoring commitment in a high need school district. Master Teaching Fellows and Teaching Fellows will complete at least one summer internship in a South Coast STEM-related business or non-profit.

The project will also contribute to broader innovation in education by way of in-depth data analysis, which will uncover direct relationships between teacher preparation and student achievement. With the program's requirement that participants not only complete coursework, but also conduct and share their own research, the program will contribute to advancing teaching and learning in STEM classrooms. In addition, the program is contributing to the development of a Technology/Engineering teaching license at UMass Dartmouth, meeting an urgent regional need.

More about Kaput Center project
"Our research will lay the groundwork for developing more effective courses and professional development opportunities for teachers,'' said Dr. Chandra Orrill, who will lead the five-year $600,000 study. "The better we understand how teachers understand the mathematics they teach and how that understanding impacts the experiences students have, the better we can be at creating learning opportunities."

Dr. Orrill's research project aims to explore effective mathematics teaching. She focuses on the idea that excellent math teaching requires not only a strong body of knowledge, but also the ability to connect different facets of the knowledge to each other.

Besides funding research that could lead to math education reforms, Dr. Orrill's NSF-funded project will support the creation of a new course for middle school educators seeking their professional license.

Professor Orrill joined the UMass Dartmouth faculty in 2010 after serving nine years as a research scientist in the Learning and Performance Support Laboratory at the University of Georgia. In that time, she led and collaborated on over twenty projects focused on teachers' learning. These included professional development projects and research projects. Professor Orrill's research focuses on teacher professional development and teacher knowledge in mathematics, particularly in the upper elementary and middle grades. Much of this work has focused on fractions and multiplicative reasoning. She is also affiliated with SEPPCE's Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education.

The Kaput Center provides a focus and support for sustained investigation of foundational issues in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, issues that will be chosen to enhance and deepen ongoing research by its members and associates. The Center is an interdisciplinary research unit where fundamental problems in STEM education will be studied, discussed and analyzed through conferences, interdisciplinary colloquium series, basic research and development, commissioned reports, and think-tank meetings.