by Claire Miller
The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that supports science education, research and innovation, awards about 10,000 grants each year to individuals, organizations and universities who strive to push the boundaries of established scientific knowledge and to improve the nation’s science literacy.
As one of the NSF’s 2010 grant recipients, the College of Education at Georgia State University is working with other area schools and universities to improve science education and literacy by increasing the number of high-quality science teachers in the Atlanta area.
The college’s $900,000 grant entitled, “Impacting Metro-Atlanta Science Teaching” (IMAST), brings together the College of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and four public school districts in the metro-Atlanta area to “recruit, prepare and support highly qualified secondary science teachers who are committed to teaching science at a high-need public school in the metro-Atlanta area,” according to the grant.
“We want to make a difference in science teaching in the Atlanta area, especially in school districts that are in need of quality teachers,” said Miyoun Lim, assistant professor in the COE’s Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology and one of the IMAST program coordinators. “Georgia Tech produces quality graduates in the STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and math – and we’re excited about working with them.”
One of the cornerstones of the grant is the Robert Noyce Scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students who want to become science teachers. Students with degrees in science can apply for a scholarship, which offers $12,000 for one year, as they complete their Master of Arts in Teaching (secondary science). Undergraduates can apply to receive one year of funding for the senior year of their bachelor’s program ($12,000) and another year of funding while obtaining their master’s degree in secondary science teaching, ($12,000) for a total of $24,000 in funding.
The first four Noyce Science Scholars developed a passion for science at different times in their lives and decided to pursue teaching for different reasons, but they will work together in the next year to earn their teaching degrees.
“We had the chance to work with them over the summer, when they took their first set of classes,” said Anton Puvirajah, assistant professor in the COE’s Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology and one of the IMAST program coordinators. “They’re a good group of students and we look forward to watching them grow through this program.”
Keep reading to find out more about the COE’s first set of Noyce Science Scholars.
When Georgia Tech graduate Aakash Kumar told his friends that he was planning to use his degree to go into teaching, they were a little surprised.
“I got my degree in chemical engineering, so most people are surprised that I’m getting my master’s in teaching because you can make a lot of money in chemical engineering,” he explained. “But teaching is what I enjoy doing.”
As the son of parents who received their degrees in polymer and physical science, his interest in this subject area came at an early age.
Kumar applied to the IMAST Program after hearing about it at Georgia Tech and has started student teaching with middle school students this semester.
Initially, he went into the program thinking he wanted to teach high school science. But his work thus far in middle school makes him rethink his post-graduation plans.
“I was really excited about going to teach at the high school level, but after working at the middle school level, I’m not so sure,” he said. “The students are a lot more enthusiastic about science. You have to have a lot of energy to teach in middle school, and I have a lot of energy.”
Kumar plans to graduate next summer, but in the meantime he’s taking advantage of learning how to apply his expertise to his classroom.
“All the teachers are really welcoming,” he said. “It’s great to be in the classroom and to have that kind of open environment. I’ve enjoyed having these teaching experiences and adapting those experiences to the classroom.”
Growing up in Illinois, Megan LaRocca had an apple tree-lined backyard and a large garden for her to explore.
She dreamed of becoming a dolphin trainer at the zoo, so her parents encouraged her and explained that she would need to have a strong science background to achieve that goal.
“This is when I started to really pay attention to science at school,” LaRocca said. “I chose to study biology in college because I believe organisms and ecosystems are the world’s finest pieces of art and works of engineering.”
When she was a senior in college, she began considering a degree in teaching, like her mother, and decided to apply for the IMAST Program.
Since starting the program, her teaching experiences and the friendships she’s made along the way have only reinforced her decision to become a science teacher.
“I have had a wonderful experience thus far in my middle school placement, and have been given wonderful guidance by my mentor teacher,” LaRocca said. “I am amazed how much I have learned in such a short amount of time, and I have developed some wonderful friendships within my cohort.”
Upon graduating and getting a job as a science teacher, she also hopes to help coach the school’s cross country and track teams.
But no matter where she decides to teach, LaRocca believes the IMAST Program has given her the confidence and skill set to be a great teacher.
“Through this program, I hope to develop a toolbox filled with ideas and strategies to make me the most effective teacher I can be,” she said. “This program has made me feel confident that I can be a successful teacher in any classroom I walk into.”
Michelle Namer knows that science can be a little intimidating for those who didn’t have engaging teachers or didn’t feel a connection to the subject matter.
So when it came time to decide what she wanted to do with her degree from Georgia Tech, she decided that teaching could be a way to change that.
“Whenever I had the opportunity to share information with nonscientists, I realized just how many people are afraid of science,” Namer said. “I became passionate about the knowledge I had and the possibility of changing people’s attitudes about science.”
She had the chance to try out lesson planning and teaching last semester when she worked with middle school students in Atlanta.
“Coming from Georgia Tech, I knew a lot about science and research and I had a lot of enthusiasm for this field,” Namer explained. “I have learned so much since starting this program in June – I’m learning to take those things and turn them into lessons that make sense to students.”
This semester, Namer is with high school students and spending longer periods of time in the classroom.
“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences,” she said. “It’s been a huge learning experience for me.”
Since he was a kid, Stian Tucker was always fascinated with the way the world worked.
His interest in science only grew when he went to college and took an introductory biology class, where he learned about illness, medicine and the human body.
Combine this passion for science with his experiences working in a classroom, and you’ve got Tucker’s ideal career: Becoming a science teacher.
“As a biology student, I have participated in several middle school-level informal science education programs and have really enjoyed those experiences,” he said. “This opened me up to the prospect of teaching as a career.”
His biology professors at Georgia State encouraged him to apply for the IMAST Program and he was the only undergraduate accepted to the program. The Noyce Scholarship will allow him to finish his degree program and then start his education courses.
“I had the pleasure of meeting the other scholars and the faculty who coordinate the program,” Tucker said. “I can say, however, that gaining admission to the IMAST program is a great impetus to do very well in my classes.”
Though he hasn’t started his education coursework yet, he hopes the IMAST Program will give him the skills he needs to be an effective teacher.
“I hope to become a skillful educator, above all,” Tucker said. “I want to be able to relate to students as a person and as a teacher, and to meet them where they are to help them enjoy learning as much as they can about science and about life.”
For more information about the IMAST Program, visit http://msit.gsu.edu/IMAST.htm.