Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.
Education and industry’s four hot subjects are demanding more attention from students, first in the classroom and later in life.
The STEM Teaching Fellows Program was developed to bring together select area teachers to share and build off one another. The challenge is to find innovative ways to increase the effectiveness of STEM lessons in their schools. They are also urged to encourage students in the STEM studies.
Tracey Carisch, managing director, said 41 teachers were chosen to participate in the program’s second year. The pool of teachers has almost doubled from its first year of 24 educators. A panel of stakeholders from business, education and nonprofit sectors reviewed this year’s 84 applicants. Their goal was to find teams from schools that have an interesting combination of skill sets, teaching practices and classroom demographics.
Carisch said those who were not chosen this year will receive some priority, if they reapply next year.
Mullinax, a science teacher at E.L. Ross Elementary, said the program caught her eye.
“To me, real world science involves all of the [STEM subjects] together,” Mullinax said. “The more knowledgeable I am on this subject, the better I can help my students.”
Mullinax asked Cuervo, a CHS science teacher, to be her partner in the venture.
“She and I work well together,” Mullinax said. “I am excited about the chance to work with a high school teacher and share ideas from elementary to high school.”
She explained science builds on itself with each grade. Concepts covered in elementary school are the base for the complex ideas explored in high school. Mullinax explained a firm foundation in elementary school is helpful for comprehension in high school.
Cuervo said she initially heard about the program through fellow CHS science teacher Gabriela Tallent.
“Gabi has been a tremendous benefit to the science department,” Cuervo said. “At our monthly department meetings, I have asked her to contribute.”
Tallent was a part of the 24 educators who participated in the program’s first year. She was in good company with teachers from Cleveland’s neighboring school system, Bradley County. Teachers involved in last year’s cohort included: Carrie Ivester, Bradley Central High School chemistry teacher; Bo Borders, Walker Valley High School biology and anatomy teacher; and Alan Bivens WVHS career and technical education teacher.
Cuervo said she asked Tallent to share her newfound knowledge at Cleveland High’s department meetings. She also accompanied Tallent to the STF meeting hosted by CHS.
“I got to see firsthand a little bit of what they do. I was very impressed,” Cuervo said. “They give you some very good ideas you can use in your classroom.”
The basic idea of the STF program is to encourage growth and learning in the STEM fields. Specific objectives call for participants to collaborate with and share best practices with outstanding teachers in the region; learn best practices from around the nation and world; work with community partners to develop curriculum and problem-based learning projects; identify, document and share STEM assets in your community; and contribute to the design of the STEM Fellows program components.
Tallent met with her fellow educators on a monthly basis, with the exception of meeting times set aside for projects. In place of one meeting was a job shadowing opportunity. The CHS science teacher chose to visit Cleveland State Community College, Lee University and Chattanooga State Community College. She sat in on several chemistry classes.
What she discovered surprised her as much as it did her peers.
“... I asked every professor what they expect students to know when they come to them,” Tallent said. “Everybody was like, ‘If they have the math skills, then I can teach them the chemistry.”
Continued Tallent, “The shocker was, almost half of the freshmen in these three colleges have to take some form of remedial math, which I think is just unbelievable.”
“They said they lack the math skills to perform well in science.”
Tallent also went to the Volkswagen Groups of America Chattanooga plant. She had an opportunity to tour and learn more about the facilities, including the plant’s academy.
A field trip led by Tallent to the plant with 60 of her students was an eye-opening experience. She said several students said they would like to work at the plant. Two students told Tallent they wanted to enroll at the VW Academy following their high school graduation.
Tallent said it is important students receive the necessary skills to perform well in school and competitively in the job market.
“When Volkswagen opened they had 2,000 openings and 65,000 applicants,” Tallent said. “Our kids compete globally. They are not just up against kids from Walker Valley High School or Bradley Central. They have to have skills to be able to work.”
Mullinax and Cuervo will spend time job shadowing as well as working on a team project. Both assignments will be presented to their fellow participants in the program.
Carisch explained one of the main differences between the first and second year will be an emphasis on job shadowing.
“We had such great feedback from the teachers we are going to expand that a little bit,” Carisch said. “There will be more prep work going into the job shadowing and then they will present a lesson plan that is reflective of what they saw and learned at the job site.”
STEM educators will also be asked how they can incorporate the arts into their classrooms. Carisch explained art projects allow kids to try, fail and try again. She said STEM at its core is about problem solving. Students must be able to find and apply information.
“The arts are a good way to get kids to [find and apply information], because there is no right or wrong answer,” Carisch said. “You can fail and start over again. We want to apply this to subjects like math. We want them to know it is OK to try different ways to solve the problem.”
STEM Fellows who follow a list of expectations, including perfect attendance and full participation, will receive a stipend at their graduation next May.
According to Carisch, the recently chosen teachers show a lot of promise.
“I just think we are really excited the program is expanding,” Carisch said. “What we want to see is this continuation and growth within schools. So to have a teacher from the Cleveland school system participate last year and two this year is great.”
Bradley County teachers set to participate in Cohort 2 include Lauren Limburg and Beth Fugate. Both are math teachers at WVHS.