Professors in the Cal Poly Pomona science, math and education departments are coming together to train middle school teachers with the help of a grant funded by the National Science Foundation's Noyce Master Teacher Fellows Program.
The $1.4 million grant, going toward the Center for Excellence in Mathematics Training, allows CPP professors to work with 20 science and math teachers in the Pomona-Montclair school district. The grant succeeds a previous NSF grant that focused on math lessons
to fourth and fifth graders that lasted from 2003 to 2006.
Designed for middle school math and science teachers, the aim of the project is to prepare better educators for student success in high school and eventually college level science and math courses. The project also serves as a gateway for students entering high
school to be encouraged to take more science and math courses.
Homeyra Sadaghiani, assistant professor in the physics department who is associated with the project, said she strongly believes it will improve the quality of education for young students.
"The courses at the middle school level are challenging, and the teachers who teach these courses aren't necessarily trained well," said Sadaghiani. "If the teacher doesn't have a full grasp on the material, it becomes challenging for the student."
Sadaghiani's is the physical science content expert of the project. She became involved with the project because she believes well-rounded teachers could have a great impact on the community.
Moses Garcia, a third-year biology student, is hopeful that the project will get students involved in the sciences at an earlier age.
"The sciences are typically viewed as boring, and most students have difficulty getting into them," said Garcia. "This should help increase understanding and maybe make it more fun for both teachers and students."
According to Sadaghiani, physics is one of the more complex science subjects that middle school students are learning, and may remain difficult if not approached properly. A better focus on the content of specific subjects will ensure that students get the best
out of their education.
Workshops will begin this summer, and the program is expected to last five years. Hybrid classes throughout the academic year are also being considered.
Individual workshops will last for three weeks. Teachers will meet with CPP professors for class discussion and hands-on activities that will improve the difficult concepts generally associated with math and science.
When a teacher completes the workshop, he or she will be considered a "master teacher." Master teachers will learn to develop lesson plans that build upon the previous day's work. Daily isolated activity will no longer play a factor in teaching.
Not only are the CPP professors involved excited about the project, but future educators are as well.
Ashley Figueroa, a second-year education student, has been waiting for a project like this to come around.
"Children deserve a well-rounded education," said Figueroa. "Interdisciplinary education is important, but what is the point if certain areas are being neglected and a greater emphasis is placed on others?"
These are strategies that have been proven successful, according to Nicole Wickler, associate professor of the education department and the project's principal investigator.
Master teachers will seek national board certification and will have the option to complete either the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment, better known as the BTSA, or earn a second master's degree in science or math.
The project includes professors throughout the science and math departments, including biology, math, physics, chemistry and education. By including all elements of these three department, students will be ensured that their master teachers are being trained in
all areas of math and science.
Master teachers will take on a leadership role at their respected school as well.
"A master teacher will go back to their district and play the role of developing expert and guide and mentor others," said Sadaghiani. "They will be someone that other teachers can turn to."
Incorporated with the project is video analysis for assessment and evaluation. Video analysis will provide new approaches to teaching that through it, master teachers will get a better understanding of the quality of their lessons.
The project is also a research study that will collect data from teachers and students in the future to see how the knowledge they have acquired throughout their training transmits to students. The data will potentially be included in a new publication.
Sadaghiani feels that the project is not limited to just those involved, but the CPP community should also start working together to improve science and math in the education system. She encourages a strong collaboration between departments to deliver better
"Teachers have a huge impact on student choices," said Sadaghiani. "If we can train good teachers along the way, we really can make a difference."