STEM programs emphasized
Delilah Moss, a sixth grade math teacher at the Friendship Academy of Science and Technology in Baltimore, had to start this school year without a computer or projector in her classroom, but was supposed to teach a curriculum that required her to use both.
Moss, a 2013 graduate of Towson, was expected to teach a curriculum that lined up with the new Maryland Common Core, a set of teaching standards that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes.
“The curriculum requires me to have a laptop, projector, a class set of laptops, unlimited copies and so on,” Moss said. “The curriculum is based off of showing animations that demonstrate… the concept.”
Moss had to use her personal laptop, and raised funds through a Donors Choose project in order to buy her own projector for her classroom.
Donors Choose is a nonprofit based in the United States that allows individual donors to give money directly to teachers that are looking for funding for their classroom projects.
The Maryland Common Core is just one example of the number of states in America that are emphasizing STEM in their public schools, all the way up to the college level.
Maryland has been one of the most successful states in educating students in the STEM categories, according to The Condition of College and Career Readiness in Maryland report released by American College Testing (ACT). In the report, Maryland finished 10 percentage points higher than the national average in the percentage of students who tested college-ready in math, and nine points higher in science.
States are starting this new wave of STEM education so that the U.S. as a whole can catch up to the rest of the world.
America only ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students who are receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Towson is adapting to this uptick in the demand for STEM jobs and STEM teachers that has occurred in the last five or so years.
Presidential Scholar Nancy Grasmick and President Maravene Loeschke are working together to implement STEM learning into the education major to better prepare Maryland’s future teachers to take over curriculums that meet the standards set by the Common Core.
Senior education major Chandler Davis, who is currently student teaching fifth grade at Abingdon Elementary in Harford County, said she is prepared to teach STEM subjects, although she hopes to teach in elementary school, where she will not have to specialize in one subject.
“Even in the freshman and sophomore year classes, we had to take some of the basic science like physical science, but it was geared toward teaching science,” Davis said. “We had to learn how to teach it to elementary school students. We had to make a lesson to teach elementary students math.”
During her junior year, Davis was required to complete a math and a science internship. She taught each subject weekly using the Baltimore County curriculum.
“I think [STEM] is taking on more importance to the subjects,” Davis said.
The University also became one of the few schools in America to have a UTeach program, which places students who are STEM majors in a classroom in their first year at Towson and encourages them to become teachers. Through the UTeach program, students can take free one-credit courses and can start lesson planning earlier than traditional education majors.
“[Students in UTeach] are taking very specialized courses focused on science and math. In doing that, they’ll be certified as secondary teachers in Maryland, so they’ll have that level of certification,” Grasmick said.
When Towson was first awarded the grant to start the program in 2012, it was only one of 30 schools in the country to have the program.
The UTeach program currently has about 100 students enrolled, according to David Vanko, the dean of the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics.
In Grasmick’s short time at Towson, she said that even in non-UTeach education classes, STEM has taken on more of a role.
“I don’t think it was as robust as it is now,” she said. “I think what happened is you have two tracks. You had people taking courses in math and science training to be teachers, and then you had students in the College of Math and Science just training to go into regular careers.”
In traditional STEM majors, for students who aren’t looking to become teachers, there is certainly opportunity to find jobs after graduation.
According to a report released in February by Burning Glass Technologies, 48 percent of all entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher are in STEM fields, but only 29 percent of college graduates nationally receive a STEM degree.
For graduates who do enter STEM fields after graduation, many of them end up leaving their jobs.
A study released in November by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 48 percent of college graduates who entered a STEM career during the 2003-04 academic year left those positions by 2009.
Vanko said that Towson has a difficult time keeping students who originally enroll in STEM majors in the major by the time of graduation.
“One issue we have is students who try STEM and then switch majors because they find it too difficult,” Vanko said in an email. “We want to help, not necessarily by making it easy, but by making it more understandable and learnable.”
In order to keep students in STEM majors, the University started a STEM learning community in Richmond Hall, where students enrolled in STEM can live with their peers. The learning community holds study sessions and offers an opportunity for students to seek help in their studies.
“As a STEM major I have a very rigorous course load and it benefits me a lot to live with people that I attend classes with,” freshman Cory Duke, a chemistry and cell and molecular biology double major and a member of the STEM community, said in an email. “Together my classmates/roommates and I can teach each other material in order to study for a test, or review an experiment before we do it in class the next day, which really helps us succeed academically.”
For the next breed of college STEM majors, teachers like Moss will be encouraged by the state and national governments to put an emphasis on STEM in the classroom.
“Every grade in the middle school has a 70-minute science class. In addition to social studies, math, English language arts, at 70 minutes each,” Moss said. “I had a really great science teacher on my team last year who set me up to offer great science opportunities for my kids. At the end of March we are taking a week-long trip to North Bay, an adventure camp tailored to inner-city students in North East, MD. It is aligned to science standards and is an awesome week for the kids.”