Future Teachers Discover How Math and Science Affects World

Rider University School of Education is building high school students’ enthusiasm for math and science teaching and learning in a two-week Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Teacher Academy.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

With the national and state education policy agendas focused on legislation to bolster student achievement in today’s schools, Rider University School of Education is building high school students’ enthusiasm for math and science teaching and learning in a two-week Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Teacher Academy.

Through funding from Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Rider University School of Education STEM Academy is a collaborative interdisciplinary math and science program that gives junior and senior high school students from local urban communities hands-on experiences in handling live specimens, an awareness of sources of ecological information, and a new set of science skills that are transferable to future investigations and teaching endeavors. The cohort of future teachers in this year’s STEM Academy were nominated by their high school math and science supervisors because of their interest in the field and their desire to pursue a career in STEM teaching.

“This grow-your-own science teacher program is one strategy for recruiting highly qualified teachers for the schools in our backyard,” explained Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of the School of Education. “This academy not only gives us the opportunity to collaborate and pool the tremendous talent and research experience of our science and math faculty here at Rider, but it provides students with multiple perspectives on different scientific disciplines.”

The STEM Academy’s goals are to actively engage students in hands-on science activities such as CSI Roadkill and CSI of a Dinosaur Dig and increase awareness of the value and rewards of a teaching career in STEM areas. Students are learning to become successful investigators through field techniques, laboratory skills and Internet search strategies used to address scientific questions. Students will design and execute their own research study, which they will present to a local (and possibly regional) audience.  

Ewing High School junior Ronald Hennig is amazed that learning science and math could be this fascinating. “It is a surprise to see a dead pig and how the insects interact with it. I expected to be in a classroom but instead this has been very hands-on. This type of learning is the best approach to teaching and we’re proving that here because the way we are learning is really making science interesting,” he said.

The ambitious two-week syllabus kicked off with a scientific study about the natural process of decay and on the first day students carried a pig carcass to a secure area on the Rider University campus. Here they are observing the interactions of decomposers over time, assemble a frog skeleton and reconstruct a pig skeleton from a carcass consumed by bugs. Later in the program, students used GIS tools to examine the impact that suburban development can have on animal and plant communities, explore the logistics of a real dinosaur dig, which was conducted in Montana, and visit a site to study dinosaur fossils, discover the implications and challenges of going green, and learn more about how nature supports the world in which we live.

“We are looking at real problems and issues in the world through multiple science perspectives, said Dr. Peter Hester, Secondary Science Education Professor. “We hope that the students in the program who already have a passion for science and math and want to be teachers will get excited about what they are learning in this program and eventually become teachers of kids in urban settings.”

Hester recruited two of his students, whom he had taught in the course ELD-385: Teaching Science in Middle School, to help out during the academy. Rebecca Erickson, a senior Elementary Education and Integrated Sciences and Math dual major, and Paul Lomax, a senior Secondary Education and Integrated Sciences and Math dual major, have contributed their mathematical expertise during the planning of activities and as they facilitate student discussion.

As Erickson guides the students as they formulate their own research projects, she is amazed how they are still able to achieve the goals of the academy. “I’m very interested and hopeful of the potential increase in inquiry approach learning in science and math education,” she explained.

Danielle St. John, a rising senior from Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, N.J., is thinking very seriously about a career in teaching mathematics.  She likes the idea of learning about math and science together because she says she never “really thought about how what happens in the world around us affects one another.  Take the pig for instance, I never really thought about road kill and why bugs would be drawn to it. I always liked math and now I want to learn how I can teach math and science in the future,” she said.

The Rider University STEM Teacher Academy runs from August 8 through August 19.  For more information on Rider University School of Education programs and courses go to http://www.rider.edu/summer.

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