The Developing Effective and Engaging Practice in STEM (DEEP) project implemented 3 university-community collaborations to enhance youth and family learning opportunities while preparing new teachers with a deeper understanding of STEM teaching and learning:
- Embedded practicum experiences for teacher candidates enrolled in science teaching methods courses.
- An internship program designed to develop new teachers as leaders in high quality STEM education.
- An early field work experience for undergraduate science majors considering science teaching.
These collaborations are explained below, followed by their collective overall impact.
The Teaching Practicum Experience (TPEX) model was applied in both elementary and secondary science teaching methods classes at CSULB over the course of the project time period. Both TPEX models were viewed as successful, as they provided an enriching experience for university students entering the field of elementary or secondary teaching, as well as demonstrated a viable model for collaboration between university and a local afterschool program. Boys and Girls Clubs staff (both administration and on-site leaders) recognized the benefits of the collaboration for the afterschool youth who were provided with more STEM learning experiences each semester.
Elementary Science Model
Jo Topps, instructor of SCED 475 Teaching and Learning Science, K-8 (elementary science teaching methods), worked with the DEEP project team, CSULB Science Education Graduate Students, and the Boys and Girls Club to create a collaborative teaching experience where university students experienced and then taught an Engineering Adventures afterschool curriculum to children at a Boys and Girls Clubs afterschool program at two different elementary school sites in Long Beach. The future teachers worked with small groups of students (3-8 children) over the course of several class periods which were conducted on site at the elementary school from 4:30-6:00pm.
Following the teaching sessions, the class would debrief from their experience. Through experience, the instructor found that visiting the afterschool site on alternating weeks, in the second half of the semester, provided an optimal balance of course instruction and teaching opportunity.
Participating university students found the experience to be invaluable, and typically rated the experience as the one of the most effective components of the course. Both qualitative and quantitative data point to clear gains (for the university students) of confidence in talking about and explaining science to children, as well as a decrease in anxiety related to teaching science.
Secondary Science Model
Tamara Araya, instructor of EDSS 450c Curriculum and Methods (secondary science teaching methods) cocreated a slightly different model of TPEX, with guidance from the DEEP project team and assistance from CSULB Science Education Graduate Students. In this case, the future secondary teachers, working in teams of 2-3, developed lesson sequences that they would team teach over the course of several visits to a Boys and Girls Clubs Afterschool Site located at a Long Beach Unified School District Elementary School.
Over the course of 4 semesters, Ms. Araya assessed and modified the program to optimize both university student and afterschool youth experiences. The majority of students in the EDSS 450c course indicated that this teaching experience at the Boys and Girls Club was the most beneficial piece of the entire science teaching methods course. It helped them to see the importance of engaging students in hands-on investigations rather than simply lecturing to them.
The instructor also noticed a difference between her students who had previously only practiced lesson planning and implementation in a peer-taught situation versus the more authentic experience of teaching middle school children provide through TPEX. This unique setting allowed the university students to conduct lessons with school-aged children and obtain much more authentic feedback regarding the effectiveness of the lesson.
Like the elementary TPEX, an alternating week schedule was found to provide the necessary balance between instruction and teaching experiences.
The Keck Foundation STEM Intern program placed 24 post-baccalaureate students enrolled in the multiple subject teacher credential program at CSULB in local informal science education institutions (California Science Center, Aquarium of the Pacific, Columbia Memorial Space Center) for a 10-week experience intended to provide a variety of opportunities for honing their newly acquired teaching skills. These pre-service teachers, who had finished their requisite coursework and had either completed the student teaching experience or were about to begin student teaching in an upcoming semester, were invited to apply for these paid internships. Selected interns were brought on at their respective sites as volunteers, participating in training and orientation sessions much as adult volunteers would. Instructional responsibilities generally fit into the following categories:
- floor programs where educators engaged visitors with brief, hands-on science activities;
- school programs where educators engaged school groups in 30-50 minute site tours or hands-on 'classroom' lessons; and
- summer camps where educators engaged youth for three-five hours over the course of a week with science- or engineering-themed activities.
The process of recruiting and managing the intern experience was led by Dr. Jim Kisiel, with assistance from CSULB Science Education Graduate Students. A key staff member at each of the community institutions served as a primary contact regarding for the University. A series of meetings with university and informal education institution preceded implementation of the Keck Intern program at each site to ensure that needs and concerns for all parties were addressed to the extent possible.
In addition, for 2 of the 4 iterations of the project, a for-credit seminar was offered (and required) for participating interns. These biweekly meetings provided interns with the opportunity to share their experiences with other interns, and reflect on their experiences (good and bad) from the previous weeks.
Impact on Participants
Both qualitative and quantitative evaluation data suggest that the Keck Intern experience was beneficial to both university students as well as the institutions where they were conducted. Interns showed an increased confidence in both science understanding and science teaching and gained insights into the importance of adjusting instruction to different audiences. Many developed a better understanding of how community institutions such as these might support them as future teachers and were able to recognize the advantages of learning in informal science institutions such as these.
Each of the institutions clearly valued the program. Participating staff at the California Science Center, where interns supported the 'on floor' teaching experiences, remarked how the interns enhanced the program by helping to provide more learning stations and even fill-in when other staff and volunteers were on vacation or engaged in other programming (like Summer Camp programs.) The Aquarium of the Pacific valued the opportunities to observe interns and reflect on practice with them--something they rarely make time to do amidst a busy schedule. The Keck Interns also helped Aquarium educators manage their busy spring school visit schedule, showing confidence in the novice teachers by asking to extend their internship by a few weeks.
The Early Field Experience program was developed to involve science majors in collaboration with an upper-division physics class, and a local informal science education institution, the Columbia Memorial Space Center (CMSC). Eventually, recruitment was modified to focus on liberal studies majors enrolled in science content courses. Many of these students are considering a teaching path (at the elementary school level), although they have not yet enrolled in any credential-related classes.
Participants were asked to devote 4.5 hours of time at the site, plus additional time for preparation with project faculty and travel time, with a maximum time requirement of 10 hours. In consideration of their participation, participants were provided with a book of science education resource materials. At the recommendation of the CMSC, students were scheduled in two shifts: a morning and an afternoon shift. The goal of this scheduling was to provide coverage and programming during the entire day.
Impact on Participants
A total of 5 students participated in the Early Field Experience program. All participants were asked to provide feedback on the experience using surveys. In their feedback, students reported the experience was a positive one. However, they did note that there were times in which the attendance at the CMSC was sparse, particularly in the early mornings and late afternoons.
The DEEP project demonstrated that it is possible to create different kinds of collaboration between university and community that can support the development of science teachers and improve STEM education. The model of collaboration may ultimately be less important than the presence of key factors (e.g. institutional capacity, pre-existing organizational structures, willing and engaged stakeholders, and others noted above) that make the collaboration activities more easily implemented and sustained.