How to make elementary teachers stronger in STEM

The NCSEE began as a way to strengthen the hard science training among students of the school’s college of education. Later, St. Kate’s added support staff for an on-site STEM professional development program, which offers everything from daylong workshops to intensive week-long courses with periodic follow-ups for K-12 schools and districts across the country.

The goal of this targeted STEM-focused PD is to plug a gap that currently exists in elementary education—to help better integrate STEM into the school day, rather than allocating a chunk of time for science and another for math. “Given that you have one teacher in one classroom in elementary schools, it makes sense to be thinking about things in a holistic, integrated way,” Born-Selly said.

“Research shows that children make decisions very early on in their elementary lives about whether or not they like science or math and that can be influenced by their teacher’s likes and dislikes,” said Vicky Yatzus, head of school at the Independence School, a tuition-based academy in Delaware.

To help break that cycle, Yatzus’ school decided to partner with St. Kate’s, after connecting at a science education conference, for a comprehensive PD regimen they knew would take teachers out of their comfort zones and, hopefully, invest them with more confidence in their classrooms.

Eliminating the fear factor

St. Kate’s teaches courses on a variety of STEM-related subjects tailored specifically for K-8, including standby STEM subjects, such as chemistry and biology, and fun, kid-friendly fare, such as citizen science and learning outdoors. But Independence knew exactly where it wanted to start: The subject its teachers knew the least about.

“Most—virtually all—elementary school teachers have had no training in engineering. That’s almost unheard of until very recently, and it’s still pretty unusual,” said Bernadette Gilmore, who serves as director of academics and curriculum at Independence. “It’s a place where we had a void of knowledge.”

Next page: How teachers learned engineering concepts


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