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Program helps meet demand for math, science teachers

March 24, 2011

People with a degree in math or science, or at least 24 credit hours in a math or science discipline, and a desire to become a secondary school teacher can find a fast track to certification through Arizona State University’s TEAMS (Teacher Education for Arizona Math & Science) program.

TEAMS, offered by ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College on the Polytechnic campus, enables students with a bachelor’s degree who start the program in June to earn an Arizona teaching certificate in one year. After a second summer of coursework, students are awarded a master’s degree in education.

“As experienced math and science teachers retire, there is a shortage of individuals with a strong background in those content areas to replace them,” said Molina Walters, clinical associate professor in Teachers College. “So despite a difficult budget situation for some districts, school principals are still very much interested in finding people with degrees in these fields, especially areas such as chemistry and physics. Too often they are making do with teachers who are teaching outside their area of strength.”

The TEAMS program emphasizes significant amounts of time spent in local school classrooms, with support from mentor teachers and ASU faculty, during the course of the academic year. TEAMS students spend one semester student teaching at the middle school level and one at the high school level, while also taking university coursework.

Tony Billings is a TEAMS student who currently is teaching math at Higley High School, in the Higley Unified School District, under the guidance of mentor teacher Cindi Andrew. Billings pointed to one of his current ASU classes that is having an especially positive impact on his ability to teach geometric concepts.

“In my Teaching Mathematics with Technology class, I learned how to use a program called The Geometer’s Sketchpad, which enables students to use Euclidean tools of measurement – compass and straight edge – and construct shapes, formulas and more. It has helped me to reinforce lessons that have been taught previously. The students are able to literally see the math working in front of them, and the real-world connections are solidified.”

According to Walters, the TEAMS emphasis on time spent in the middle and high school setting is deliberate. “The latest research is showing that being in the schools and focused on teaching is key to success in preparing future teachers. Students can take what they are learning in their ASU classes, apply it right away and get feedback,” she said.

Billings said the fact that TEAMS specifically focuses on math and science education is a plus.

“The specificity of the program has allowed me to relearn mathematics conceptually and thus be able to better convey topics and subject matter to students,” he said. “My brain works procedurally; I am a formula guy; I enjoy the ‘plug and chug’ of mathematics. But that’s not how all students learn. I have to be prepared to apply what I know in multiple teaching styles to custom tailor to my students’ needs. After all, the better prepared I am to teach, the more prepared my material will be to teach.”

Last semester, Billings’ field assignment involved teaching general math to seventh graders, some of whom had behavioral and/or learning disabilities, at Smith Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. TEAMS students spend approximately 500 hours per semester in their student teaching assignments.

“TEAMS is an intensive program that requires a full-time commitment from students for that one-year period,” Walters said.

“There is financial support available through a variety of scholarships, grants and loans,” she said. “One program that targets science students is the STARR Noyce Scholarship. In return for receiving the scholarship, science education students make a commitment to teach in a high-need school for at least two years. High-need schools often have difficulty attracting highly qualified science teachers, and this federally funded scholarship program is designed to help reverse this situation.”

Applications are now being accepted for the next TEAMS cohort, which begins work in June. Students must possess a valid fingerprint clearance card to start the program, along with 24 credits in math, biology, physics, Earth/space science, or chemistry. Before starting their first semester of student teaching in August, students must receive a passing score on the AEPA (Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessments) subject knowledge test in their content area.

To receive more information about TEAMS, contact Megan Gamarra at (480) 727-1084 or