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Keck Grant To Help Ease Science Teachers Into The Classroom

Published: March 16, 2015

As a new teacher, one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do is step in front a classroom full of students for that very first time. For those looking to teach science, it may be even more daunting.

A grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation Southern California Grant Program is hoping to make that transition into the classroom easier by supporting programs geared toward preparing future science teachers before they take that step. In addition, the project will aid science learning for children in the local community by coordinating its efforts with various after-school programs.

The two-year project titled “Developing Engaging and Effective Practice: Advancing STEM Education via University-Community Collaborations” will be supported by a $200,000 grant awarded to the California State University (CSU) system and led by CSULB.

“There is still a need for good, passionate science teachers, but we need to give them more authentic and more positive experiences before they walk into a classroom for the first time,” said CSULB science education associate professor James Kisiel, who serves as the principal investigator (PI) for the grant.

The aim of the project is to strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning and teaching by leveraging the expertise and fostering partnerships between universities and local after-school programs and informal science education institutions.

“We want to help new teachers, both elementary and secondary level, to feel more confident when they get to the classroom,” added Kisiel. “We want them to see what it is like to actually engage kids in these hands-on activities or investigations—something they may not have seen before. We want to work up to getting potential teachers into the classroom, so this is an extraordinary supplemental experience that we hope not only makes them feel more confident as a future teacher, but also helps them to become more confident and comfortable teaching science.”

Along with the CSU Chancellor’s Office, CSULB will be collaborating with Cal State Los Angeles and working with four community partners—the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Beyond the Bell after-school program, the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Three collaborative models will be implemented and studied to determine benefits that come from providing future teachers with out-of-classroom science experiences used to develop their inquiry-based, hands-on science teaching expertise. The evaluation will also examine challenges to such cross-institutional partnerships and how to overcome them.

The first model, an early field experience, will be in partnership with the Beyond the Bell program and aligned with a science course for STEM undergraduates. The experience will not only help undergraduate students learn the science well enough to share the ideas with local youth, but will also expose them to teaching as a viable STEM career.

The second model, a teaching practicum experience, will be conducted with the Boys and Girls Club and will involve elementary and secondary teacher candidates. It will be incorporated into the pedagogical methods course that is a central part of teacher preparation.

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PHOTO BY SHAYNE SCHROEDER
Science education associate professor James Kisiel (l) with Mary Nowak, a master’s student in the program and a former Long Beach Unified School District teacher.

The California Science Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific will help develop the third model, a paid informal science internship for new teachers before they get into a classroom. In this model, recently credentialed teachers will be provided 15-week internships as they work with youth and families while gaining experience in active learner engagement in science.

The CSU hopes to implement all three models on an expanded basis throughout its 23 campuses, which prepare the majority of California’s new teachers.

The co-PIs for the project are science education professor/chair Lisa Martin-Hansen and educational technology professor Stephen Adams, both from CSULB; and Paul Narguizian, a biology education professor at CSULA.

Overall, Kisiel estimates that as many as 150 future teachers and thousands of kids from after-school programs and visits to the local science center or aquarium will interact with this program.

“We need to look carefully at what science learning opportunities are happening in the community and not just in the schools,” said Kisiel, noting that CSULB’s on-campus partners include the colleges of education and natural science and mathematics. “We need to think about how we can work together with community partners and tap into unique and overlooked resources to improve teacher education. These experiences not only give our students the opportunity to work with kids and families, but it also gives them the opportunity to think about how best to communicate science and help future generations understand it.”

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Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research. The Foundation also maintains an undergraduate education program that promotes distinctive learning and research experiences for students in the sciences and in the liberal arts, and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community in the areas of health care, civic and community services, education and the arts, with a special emphasis on children and youth from low-income families. For more information, please visit the Keck Foundation website.