Yearlong STEM teacher education program kicks off second year at WUSTL

‘STEM TQ’ a regional community effort to improve science and math education in St. Louis

August 20, 2013
By Leslie Gibson McCarthy

This summer, 75 teachers from five St. Louis area school districts and two charter schools spent two intensive weeks on the Washington University in St. Louis campus kicking off a yearlong professional development program called STEM Teacher Quality Initiative (STEM TQ).

STEM TQ is a regional community effort to develop exemplary teachers who can provide quality learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), so the teachers, in turn, can pass on STEM concepts to students from kindergarten through high school.

“This focused, hands-on yearlong program gives teachers the tools to adopt an integrated STEM curriculum in their own classrooms,” said Victoria L. May, executive director of WUSTL’s Institute for School Partnership (ISP), which hosted STEM TQ July 15-26. “What makes it unique is that after getting a foundation in STEM concepts, the program then goes beyond classrooms and curriculums and into the real world, demonstrating to teachers how STEM can be translated into meaningful careers.”

The program is made possible through STEMPact, a collaborative network of St. Louis regional businesses, educators, universities, school districts, parents, community organizations and government officials. WUSTL’s ISP has been involved in the effort since its inception, providing meeting space, administrative support and guidance to STEMpact corporate funders.

STEM TQ is intense but geared toward yearlong learning and facilitating for the teachers who participate, said Deborah Holmes, a former administrator in the Kirkwood School District who serves as STEM TQ project manager.

The program begins with the 10-day summer institute — held for the last two summers on the WUSTL campus — facilitated by Holmes and 10 others, followed by three professional development days at the end of each quarter and six after-school sessions throughout the year.

“We basically make contact with STEM TQ teachers once a month after the academic year starts,” Holmes said.

Participants in the STEM TQ program from the East St. Louis School District show off their prowess in the emergency shelter engineering challenge in Seigle Hall on the Danforth Campus.

During those first two weeks, Holmes said the first objective is to introduce teachers to a way for them to “STEM-icize” their own curricula and extend the content into something that’s “real-world and relevant” for the students.

After that, the teachers spend time doing the same hands-on experiments their students will be doing, and then go out into area offices and labs to learn how real-world applications of STEM concepts are applied. This summer, participants visited local offices of businesses such as Boeing Co., Monsanto Co., Sigma-Aldrich Co. and  Alberici Corp., along with the Danforth Plant Science Center and Saint Louis University Surgical Education Center, among others, to see how STEM is used in the real world.

“One of the things teachers don’t often get to do is go into other workplaces,” Holmes said. “Unless they’re taking kids on a field trip – which may or may not be in another workplace – they simply don’t have the time.

“So now when kids say ‘Why do I need this?’ their teachers will have specific examples because they’ve actually been there and seen STEM in action,” Holmes said.

Elizabeth Gardner, math and science coordinator for the School District of University City, agreed. UCity has sent teachers to STEM TQ for two years, and she said the emphasis on real-world problem solving is the program’s best attribute.

“The big takeaway for our teachers is making career connections with STEM,” Gardner said. “We have so many teachers who come back and say, ‘I didn’t know that was a career’ or ‘I didn’t know these businesses out in the community would work with us in this capacity.’

“The institute is helping us infuse real-world problem solving for our kids into our math curriculum, which we are working on revising now,” Gardner said.

STEM TQ is in its second year. In the summer of 2012 and during the 2012-13 academic year, teachers from four districts from around the region participated, including Belleville Public School District 118; Ferguson-Florissant School District; Francis Howell School District and University City.

This summer and during the 2013-14 school year, districts participating are East St. Louis School District; Ferguson-Florissant; Fort Zumwalt School District; Parkway School District and University City. Charter schools Grand Center Arts Academy and St. Louis Language Immersion School are participating as well.

“School districts are looking for ways to maintain long-term sustainability in these concepts and this program is a good way to start,” Holmes said.

“One of my objectives as project manager is to build capacity in the region. We are thrilled when districts embed STEM TQ Thinking as a school and curriculum focus,” she said, adding, “Data suggests we are impacting student achievement and relevance.”

See this story in the WUSTL Newsroom.