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M-STEM grads credit program for new grants, students

STEM-certified Montessori teachers discussed classroom lessons during a poster session prior to the M-STEM final celebration in April.
STEM-certified Montessori teachers discussed classroom lessons during a poster session prior to the M-STEM final celebration in April.
Maria Ignacio '12

The first 11 graduates of the St. Catherine University’s graduate certificate for Montessori teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) celebrated with  St. Kate’s faculty and leaders in April.

Underwritten by Medtronic Foundation, the 11 in-service teachers came to the certificate program from a variety of Minnesota schools—from La Crescent to Owatonna to St. Paul’s J.J. Hill Public Montessori School.

They discussed classroom projects with guests prior to a celebratory dinner April 7 on the University’s St. Paul campus.  The teachers demonstrated how their students have developed their problem-solving capabilities and a greater understanding of STEM concepts.

“The program provides the tools to do exploration and experimentation,” said La Crescent Montessori Academy teacher Tami Holtslander. She credited the STEM certificate program and the impact it has had on students and teachers for the school’s recently-announced grant for $20,000 from Project Lead the Way. The La Crescent school will also move to a larger building this fall.

Russ Dunn-Foster, who leads a Montessori classroom inside Owatonna’s Washington Elementary School, credited the STEM certificate program for a jump in enrollment.

“I used to have to really urge parents to enroll their kids in my classroom,” he said. “This year, I have 67 registered for the 2011-12 year just by word of mouth. We’re expanding to two classrooms next year!”

Medtronic Foundation aids program development

Medtronic Foundation provided a multi-year grant to assist St. Kate’s to develop the Montessori STEM Graduate Certificate program which will be offered again in July.

The on-campus course is team-taught by Assistant Professor Catherine Ibes (St. Kate’s Center for Contemporary Montessori Programs), Assistant Professor Yvonne Ng (Computer Science and Engineering) and National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics Education Director, Karen Campbell.

“I would say that from both Yvonne and Karen I learned the true value of collaboration,” said Ibes. “It is a deep process, especially when you come from such different disciplines. This is a foundational aspect of how STEM is done at St. Kate's, and I believe it has created curriculum where the learning is truly transformational.  Instructor and student alike are constantly learning—and that process creates a kind of synergy that is rare and precious.”

“One of the most powerful things I learned while teaching with Katie in the Montessori program was how concrete physical experiences can catalyze abstract thinking,” said Ng. “I also learned that my "story-telling" habits are an important way to give learning a context. This helps me not only in developing engineering programs for teachers but also in teaching engineering. I am tickled every time I work with my education colleagues because they give me both validation and insight into how to be an effective teacher.”

The St. Kate’s graduate certificate in STEM includes in-depth, hands-on learning for one week each summer, followed by online mentoring and support during the academic year to integrate the STEM tool kits teachers receive into their school’s curriculum.

It now serves as model for all STEM graduate certificates now being offered through the National Center for STEM Elementary Education.

More about the National Center for STEM Elementary Education

Launched in 2010, the National Center for STEM Elementary Education was created to improve teacher effectiveness, advance student performance and strengthen STEM literacy in the U.S.

The Center was created to advance STEM content knowledge among K-6 teachers, both traditional and those with Montessori credentials, and helping them integrate STEM concepts into their schools' curriculum.

Providing a central focus for STEM initiatives at the University, the Center has four areas of emphasis: teaching, research, curriculum and materials, and consulting and outreach for schools, school districts and community-based education providers.

May 3, 2011 by Julie Michener

See also: Education, Faculty, STEM