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$1.25M grant to develop teacher training institute

October 01, 2009

Initiative to maximize ASU’s impact on K-12 education

Arizona State University is combining energy, innovation and expertise in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to develop a groundbreaking new institute that will produce a community of highly qualified middle school math and science teachers.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded ASU a five-year, $1.25 million Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3) grant to develop The Modeling Institute, a collaboration of the university’s most cutting-edge research in STEM education and teacher preparation.

A multidisciplinary team of ASU researchers will drive the project under the auspices of the Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (CRESMET) housed within the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education. The project integrates some of the university’s most successful NSF-sponsored STEM education initiatives to maximize ASU’s impact on K-12 education locally and nationally. These projects include: Modeling Physics, Project Pathways, Professional Learning Community Resources, Project Lead the Way and Prime the Pipeline Project, Ask-a-Biologist, SMALLab, the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research, MARS education program, and Learning through Engineering Design and Practice.

Elizabeth Capaldi, ASU’s executive vice president and provost, is the project’s principal investigator.  

“Arizona State University has a strong commitment to the improvement of K-12 education in Arizona, to enhancing the talents and skills of its teachers, and to assisting students to achieve greatness,” Capaldi says. “In the fields of mathematics, science and engineering, we are working collaboratively with school districts and the various departments and colleges on our four campuses to provide continuing education for teachers.

“Among our major priorities is ensuring that all teachers are equipped with deep content knowledge, are passionate about their fields of expertise and their teaching, and are well-prepared to develop the talents of their students.” 

Modeling instruction is a highly successful teaching method used in many high school physics classrooms and increasing in popularity in chemistry and mathematics classrooms as well.

Research shows context is critical for student understanding of mathematical concepts and skills. Modeling makes the mental connection between math and science through meaningful activity, which leads to the development of mathematical ways of thinking about scientific phenomena.

The Modeling Institute is designed to engage and empower teachers and their students as they work directly with bench scientists in systematic and sustainable education programs and scientific communities.

The project director is Colleen Megowan-Romanowicz, an assistant professor with ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership and a longtime practitioner of modeling instruction in high school physics and physical science. A recent ASU doctoral degree graduate, Megowan-Romanowicz says she specifically chose ASU for her doctoral studies to learn about modeling instruction from David Hestenes, a professor emeritus of physics who pioneered modeling workshops for high school teachers 20 years ago.

“This is something that I have been preparing to do for 35 years,” Megowan-Romanowicz says. “To actually be able to create a modeling program using the very best products of my colleagues from all over the ASU colleges is a dream assignment.”

In addition to serving as a hub for NSF-funded STEM education initiatives at ASU, Megowan-Romanowicz says the project will push middle school teacher preparation and best practices in modeling instruction to the forefront of this work.

“There is no reason that instruction based on conceptual models and the practices of modeling wouldn’t work in any subject at any grade level, so we are designing these courses with this best practice in mind,” she says.

The first spark of interest in the project was ignited by Melinda Romero, the executive director of staff development and instructional services with the Chandler Unified School District. Concerned about the lack of highly qualified middle school math and science teachers, Romero approached ASU about providing certified elementary school teachers with the higher level of content knowledge needed to increase student achievement within the STEM disciplines.

While there is an abundance of certified elementary school teachers, Romero says the school district has few qualified applicants for middle school math and science teaching assignments.

“We felt we weren’t tapping into the elementary certified teachers who have an interest in STEM, but don’t have the coursework or aren’t prepared to take the exam,” Romero says. She noted that 45 teachers in the Chandler district, alone, have expressed an interest in the program.
“This is an opportunity to build on their knowledge, give them more experience and broaden their expertise,” Romero says. “It would be a pool we could use to fill our middle school math and science positions when we have shortages, and we want them to be excited about math and science for our kids even if they don’t choose to teach in the middle school setting.”

ASU will accept 25 of the best qualified elementary school teacher applicants into the Modeling Institute for the first two years and an additional 50 teachers each of the following three years to produce 200 highly qualified math and science teachers over a five-year period.

The teachers enrolled in the Modeling Institute will have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree with an emphasis on strengthening their content knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“This is a hallmark of ASU’s philosophy of social embeddedness, of making ourselves available to our partners in the community,” says James Middleton, a professor and the director of CRESMET, as well as a co-principal investigator on the project.

He credits the long-standing personal and institutional relationships between ASU and the Chandler Unified School District with bringing the project to fruition.

Middleton says the collaborative concept embodies the New American University’s principles of access, excellence and impact, and builds on ASU’s history of teacher training and innovation.

“ASU, throughout its history, has had the wisdom of hiring scholars in the academic departments, top-level researchers and world-class scholars in our schools of education,” Middleton says. “We have the most innovative STEM education projects in the country. ASU is able to leverage its resources and sustain the infrastructure through economies of scale.

“By combining and integrating ASU’s best projects in science and mathematics education, we are hoping to create an institutionalized infrastructure by which we can make a real impact in the lives of teachers and children throughout the Valley.  We will increase the number of students who are successful and who come to ASU to take part in transformative research and devote their lives to making the world a better place,” Middleton says.

The project brings together a multidisciplinary team of co-principal investigators from across ASU including: Carole Greenes, a professor of mathematics education, an associate vice provost for STEM Education and the director of the PRIME Center; Colleen Megowan-Romanowicz, an assistant professor of science education in the College of Teacher Education and Leadership and the director of the Modeling Institute; James A. Middleton, a professor of mathematics education and the director of CRESMET; David Birchfield, the director of the SMALLab initiative for K-12 Embodied and Mediated Learning; Monica Elser, the director of K-12 education and outreach programs for ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability; Tirupalavanam Ganesh, the assistant dean for information systems with the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education; Susan Haag, the director of research and evaluation for CRESMET; Charles Kazilek, the director of technology integration and outreach in the School of Life Sciences; Melinda Romero, the executive director of staff development and instructional services with Chandler Unified School District; and Wendy Taylor, an instructional specialist coordinator for the Mars Student Imaging Project in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.