The best teachers are those who are excited about the subject being taught. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded California State University, Northridge nearly $1.2 million grant to support its efforts to encourage those with a passion for mathematics and the sciences to go into teaching.
The five-year grant will fund the CSUN Noyce Program, which builds on lessons learned from prior projects to train science and math teachers to create an engaging environment in which college students studying math and the sciences have an opportunity to see if teaching is for them before they take the plunge and get a teaching credential. They also will have their tuition covered, and other support, if they decide to pursue a credential.
“The goal is to create a pipeline of trained science and math teachers who love their subject and are willing to teach in high-needs schools,” said secondary education professor Brian Foley.
Foley has teamed with mathematics professor Kellie Evans and biology professor Virginia Vandergon, to create the CSUN Noyce Program, named for the NSF funding arm, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.
“Many of the teachers out there right now, teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), don’t have degrees in the subject matter, yet they are teaching the subject in high school,” Evans said. “And many of these classes, particularly in high-needs schools, are taught by substitute teachers. Those who have a background in science and math are able to provide students with a context in which they can entice their students into understanding the subject; a background they can use to make the subject exciting and can tap into to make their lessons more interesting and engaging.”
All of which, Foley added, “can contribute to better student performance in the subject matter. So many of our schools in the Los Angeles area are high needs, and they need teachers who know the subjects they are teaching, and have a passion for sharing that knowledge with their students.”
CSUN students in the program will be called Noyce Scholars and receive scholarships of up to $15,000 per year, which will cover their tuition and some living expenses while they work toward their credentials, in exchange for their commitment to teach math or science in high-needs schools. The coordinators hope this will encourage more students of color to become math and science teachers to help create more diversity among teachers. The scholars will be paired with an experienced teacher, who will provide support while they are working on their credential and during their first years of teaching. The scholars also will work virtually as part of a lesson-study team with other teachers. Graduates of the program also will receive a small stipend to encourage them to “stay connected” to the program by attending community meetings and other activities throughout their first year of teaching.
“That support,” Foley said, “can make a huge difference as they settle into their new roles as teachers.”
The Noyce Program also will offer internships to CSUN undergraduate science and math majors who aren’t sure what they plan to do after graduation. It also will have a “teacher-in-residence” to work with all students interested in STEM teaching, raise awareness of the program and provide an “authentic voice” from the field to STEM departments at the university.
“We hope to create a professional learning community,” Vandergon said. “You’ve got people with real-world experiences sharing with our students, and the students have an opportunity to interact and connect with teachers who are doing it. And by connecting with the students earlier, with the internship program, hopefully we will tap into those people who have thought about teaching, but just weren’t sure. Now they have a chance to see what it takes to be a teacher, and connect with those who are teaching to see what is possible.”
Evans said they hope to create an environment in which science and math enthusiasts realize that teaching is a great way to share their love of the subject matter with a new generation, “and in the process, help kids in high-needs schools realize that math and science can be fun subjects.”