Tech has been chosen by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program and will receive $7.5 million in funding to expand its programs for advancing education and professional development for teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This grant is intended to expand STEM programs through the Institute’s outreach center, the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC).
The state of Georgia has been awarded $400 million to invest in education reforms at the state level and in 26 districts, including five in the metro area as part of the federal Race to the Top Program. The program was designed to reward radical improvement in schools and to close the achievement gap. Eight other states and the District of Columbia were among the winners of the $3.4 billion that the Obama administration plans to distribute over four years.
Despite concerns about federal intervention in state-level educations, the competition has already sparked a wave of reforms across the country as states have sought to improve their chances of winning the money by improving standards significantly. According to Dr. Richard Millman, director of CEISMC and professor in the School of Mathematics, the grant Tech received will make further improvements in Georgia possible.
“The mission [of CEISMC] is to work with students and teachers across Georgia,” Millman said. “With the grant, all of our efforts can expand. One of the innovations is that we can now offer our programs online so that they would be available to teachers everywhere in Georgia, not just in places that we can conveniently drive to.”
CEISMC is a partnership uniting Tech with educational groups, schools, corporations and opinion leaders throughout the state of Georgia. According to Millman, the goal of CEISMC is to ensure that K-12 students in Georgia receive the best possible preparation in STEM fields as they seek their place in the modern world.
Many of the plans for the grant money have already been explored in alternate programs. Future programs will be modeled after the NASA Electronic Professional Development Network model provided through the Institute’s Distance Learning and Professional Education (DLPE) unit for teachers pursuing advanced courses. This model will provide a source for data that could predict the success of CEISMC’s planned programs.
“We are amassing data from one urban, one suburban and one rural school to determine if this pedagogy is sufficiently encouraging young students of every background to pursue courses in STEM fields,” Millman said. “When you have an educational intervention strategy, it’s important to know whether it works, how it works and whether it works equally among everybody.”
One main component of the plans for the grant money is the creation of rigorous but engaging STEM courses in high schools and middle schools.
“Middle school students don’t even know what engineering is,” Millman said. “Try asking someone what chemical engineering is and how does it differ from chemistry. Very few people could answer that question.”
To try and combat the lack of knowledge about STEM fields, CEISMC is already working on designing courses to introduce younger students to STEM fields and to incite interest in them. Using robots and Legos, CEISMC and DPLE are creating a program for eighth-graders that will introduce them to topics such as matter, energy, waves and mathematical concepts.
Another significant component of the CEISMC’s mission is to equip teachers with the knowledge necessary to adequately teach STEM subjects. Already constructing an online professional development course for teachers, CEISMC is focusing on some more difficult subjects such as calculus, modern physics, chemistry and biology.
Subjects that are less accessible to high school students and teachers, such as nanotechnology and mathematics for engineers, are also being considered because of Tech’s proficiency with research.
According to Millman, much of the progress being made is because of cooperation with Tech faculty.
“Some members of the [Tech] faculty, whose research work is already so impressive, are working with their own grad students, finding ways to improve education in [STEM fields]. There are some faculty that really enjoy working with K-12 all across campus,” Millman said.