By Kara McMurray, WSU College of Education
If future standards in math and science are to be met, teacher preparation programs are in need of a makeover, said Tamara Holmlund, a professor of science education at Washington State University Vancouver.
“The kinds of instruction we hope to see in classrooms really can’t be the traditional models we’ve seen in math and science,” Holmlund said. “There’s a lot of talk about ambitious teaching.”
Holmlund is part of a group of faculty members and researchers at three WSU campuses working toward creating the next generation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher-preparation programs in the state. Their work is being undertaken in conjunction with researchers at Western Washington University and six other state partners.
This work isn’t meant to offend anyone or to say that current teaching practices in STEM classrooms are bad, Holmlund said, but it’s about preparing the future of the teacher workforce to meet standards for years to come.
“We’re looking at long-term, transformative change,” Holmlund said. “We want to really create the teachers of 2030 that are needing to help kids in 2030.”
Recognizing a need for a more diverse field and teachers, along with better teacher preparation, various teams are working with an interdisciplinary approach to come up with ideas and suggestions and to address issues they are seeing through their research.
“Given the standards we have in science and common core standards in mathematics, there’s really no way to help kids attain all of those standards if you don’t do some kind of integration,” Holmlund said. “So we’re looking at an interdisciplinary approach to looking at something that needs a solution in the real world. We have a lot of confidence that K-12 students can achieve those standards.”
The project seeks to increase recruitment of qualified and diverse STEM students into teaching and to create a research-based model for improving STEM teacher preparation. It is funded by a $3 million grant over the course of four years. WWU has received $1.8 million from that grant, and the remaining funds are split up between WSU and the other six state partners.
“This isn’t just tweaking things,” Holmlund said. “This is a collaborative model to work together across universities to make changes that are hard to do.”
Some of those changes will start in the recruitment processes for students, with the hope that universities will seek to admit more diverse students to the schools and ultimately to the teacher preparation programs.
“We’ve got eight working groups off the ground, and we’ve put a lot of attention on diversity and building the capacity of everyone involved to think about the processes of recruiting,” Holmlund said.
One of the changes needed is being able to prepare teachers who can help students realize the importance of STEM for their future.
“When you don’t have a lot of confidence in math and science and you’re taking those undergraduate courses, what’s going to keep kids in those courses and in that … trajectory to take more and to really try to use it in their lives and see it as part of their lives?” Holmlund said.
The project vision for the teacher of 2030 details that elementary teachers will need to be generalists with strong understanding of STEM, project-based learning and have real-world STEM experiences, while middle and high school teachers will need strong content and pedagogical content knowledge in the subject(s) they regularly teach and research and/or work experiences in one or more aspects of STEM. All teachers will need to understand and connect with diverse students, families and communities; incorporate education for sustainability, computer science and engineering principles; collaborate on an ongoing basis; approach curricula through inter- or trans-disciplinary approaches and use three-dimensional teaching and learning practices.
“That’s what all of us are working on,” Holmlund said. “All of the groups have been developing frameworks, visions and guiding principles and working to understand the state of those areas.”
In the first year of the program, Holmlund said the various working groups involved took field trips to see good models of sustainability for themselves, and there were meetings every two weeks for the groups to collaborate. Some of the accomplishments in the first year included five faculty members on the Education for Sustainability working group discussing how they are incorporating sustainability themes across their individual courses and building a partnership with the Little White Salmon Biodiversity Reserve that can serve undergraduate students as a learning site.
NextGen WA information has also now been incorporated into grant planning, and information was brought to the Southwest Washington STEM Council for discussion about how the council might support STEM teacher preparation.
Now in year two, the groups have been working toward implementation.
“Every working group is moving toward an implementation phase. We’re looking at good models,” Holmlund said. “Where are things taking place that are strong? Where are places for improvement? What’s going on and what are the qualities of that?”
Looking ahead to year three, Holmlund said the groups hope to be able to look at ways to disseminate what they are trying to implement to more places.
“We’ll have looked at what’s good and needs improvement, and then in Year 3 we’ll say, ‘let’s try things,’ ” she said.
The $3 million grant provides four years of funding, and the groups have already realized that is not enough.
“We recognize that this is more than a four-year change,” Holmlund said. “We’re going to be looking for more funding.”
WSU faculty members participating in the research include Holmlund, Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, Michael Berger, Kristin Lesseig, Kristin Huggins and Sharon Kruse with WSU Vancouver; Judy Morrison and Bob Lewis with WSU Tri-Cities; Francene Watson, Amy Roth-McDuffie and Kim Vincent at WSU Pullman, and Ph.D. candidates Heidi Rhodes and Laura Grant.
In addition to WSU and WWU, the other partners include Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Seattle Pacific University, University of Washington-Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.