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TI Foundation grant funds STEM Academy for Dallas ISD Teachers at SMU

Igniting passion for science in middle schoolers is key to high school studies and career choices

October 21, 2016

By Nancy George
SMU News

DALLAS (SMU) – A new SMU academy for Dallas Independent School District science teachers will help them share the wonders of science and technology with as many as 47,000 middle-school students. A $1.7 million grant from the Texas Instruments (TI) Foundation will help fund the academy.

Middle School Science ClassThe STEM Teacher Academy at SMU's Simmons School of Education and Human Development will help teachers develop methods for engaging students in science at a key decision-making time in their lives. Texas law requires public school students to choose in eighth grade one of six career tracks or endorsements as they select their high school courses. Since 2013, just 16.9 percent of Dallas ISD students have selected the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pathway.

One million additional STEM graduates will be needed over the next decade to meet the United States' demand, according to the National Math and Science Initiative. The number of STEM-based jobs in the US is expected to grow by 17 percent in the next decade, compared to a predicted 10 percent job growth rate for other jobs, according to the National Math and Science Initiative.

"It’s going to take a collaborative effort to meet our critical need for scientists, mathematicians and technology experts," said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "Texas Instruments, the Dallas Independent School District and SMU are combining strengths to ensure that Dallas middle schoolers choose to continue studying these important subjects through high school and beyond."

Students develop self-perceptions of their science and math skills by middle school, said SMU STEM education expert Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, who will lead the academy. "These perceptions are significant, even if not accurate. They often set the path for their high school courses."

As a former high school science teacher, Ketterlin-Geller speaks from broad experience. She is professor of education policy and leadership, director of research in mathematics education at the Simmons School and holds the Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education. In addition, she is director of K-12 STEM initiatives at the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.

"If students see themselves as scientists engaged in the process they are much more likely to stay interested in science," she said.

Middle school teachers will begin learning engagement strategies at the first STEM Academy at SMU in the summer of 2017, following a year of collaborative planning by Simmons School faculty and Dallas ISD STEM leaders. Teachers attending the three-week academy will create active learning experiences for their students, concentrating on sciences that have presented challenges. Within four years, more than 200 or 74 percent of Dallas ISD middle school science teachers will be trained to actively engage more than 47,000 Dallas middle school students in science.

“Simmons and Dallas ISD have developed a number of strategic collaborations in recent years, including federally sponsored college access programs and research projects, professional development for Dallas ISD teachers, preparation programs with Teach for America, and community engagement,” said Paige Ware, interim dean of the Simmons School. “The Simmons faculty is looking forward to participating in a project that can deliver so much benefit to our community.”  

The STEM Academy also will offer a one-week training for Dallas ISD administrators each summer as well as provide regular support to teachers and administrators during the academic year.

Combined with the $1.7 million TI Foundation grant, an SMU in-kind contribution of $1.54 million, a Dallas ISD contribution of approximately $654,000 and additional donor funds, the total program investment will be $4.08 million.

“It’s our hope that the training will help make the teachers even more effective," said Andy Smith, executive director of the TI Foundation. "It’s important to give teachers the tools and training they need to make science exciting and engaging for students and prepare them for success in high school and beyond. At the end of the day, it’s about the students having access to better jobs and a better quality of life.”

The development of the academy acknowledges that the process of teaching science has changed, says Jenny Christian, STEM science director at Dallas ISD. A former science teacher with a master's in aerospace studies, Christian remembers hating science as a student.

"My only exposure to science in middle school and high school was reading out of the textbook, memorizing information and taking tests," she says. "I didn't know I was good at science until I went to college and had the opportunity to work in labs."

The STEM Academy will help teachers take science teaching well beyond the textbook by equipping them to help middle schoolers design their own experiments on topics like photosynthesis, Ketterlin-Geller says. "Teachers are key to helping students apply their knowledge in ways that are meaningful."

The SMU grant is part of $5.4 million in 2016 TI corporate and foundation grants dedicated to improving kindergarten through 12th grade science, technology engineering and math initiatives. TI's "Power of STEM Education Grants" are focused on collaborative strategies to improve student success and teaching effectiveness in STEM education.

"We applaud TI’s decisive role in ensuring that Dallas ISD students are prepared to meet the challenges of the future," said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for development and external affairs. "SMU is honored to play an important role in this important collaboration."

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