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St. Catherine University launches National Center for STEM Elementary Education

The Center is helping elementary educators become competent and confident teachers of science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
The Center is helping elementary educators become competent and confident teachers of science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
Sher Stoneman

The National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Catherine University was unveiled Aug. 4 to a statewide meeting of Minnesota superintendents and school administrators.

Launched virtually at STEM.stkate.edu, the Center was established to improve elementary teacher effectiveness, advance student performance and strengthen society’s literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"The National Center for STEM Elementary Education is distinctive because it addresses one of the underlying reasons for negative interest in science — support for elementary teachers to instruct STEM subjects with competence and confidence,” said Colleen Hegranes, senior vice president at St. Catherine University. “As new standards in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have been implemented in Minnesota, professional development and ongoing support for elementary teachers has not been equally vigorously pursued."

Interdisciplinary learning

Key areas of emphasis for the National Center include:

  • Curriculum and materials,
  • Consulting and outreach for schools, school districts and community-based education providers,
  • Research to evaluate the impact of STEM programs and
  • Preparing elementary educators to more effectively teach STEM.

The center’s executive director, Anthony Murphy, Ph.D., formerly was associate dean of education at the University.

His 2004 proposal for an interdisciplinary STEM curriculum has grown into a multi-faceted academic initiative that includes graduate certificates in STEM for both traditional and Montessori teachers — the first of their kind — and the creation of an undergraduate STEM minor (five courses) and STEM certificate (three courses). All St. Kate’s elementary education majors are required to earn the STEM certificate.

Faculty and staff across six academic departments — education, chemistry, biology, mathematics/physics, Montessori and psychology ­— have collaborated to create a team-teaching model of STEM curricula. The Minnesota Board of Teaching has recognized the model for its innovation, and it has garnered inquiries from other colleges and universities, state departments of education and a national education agency.

During August St. Kate’s STEM faculty members will lead the final weeklong session of a graduate certificate program for Montessori teachers and will be in Richfield, Minn., delivering a custom-designed in-service workshop on engineering concepts and curriculum to elementary teachers in that district. They will also prepare teacher-coaches to conduct workshops and support new teachers in the Richfield School District.

STEM faculty will also participate in the first-ever STEM @ the Minnesota State Fair initiative with STEM educators and organizations from across the state on Thursday, Aug. 26.

Focus on elementary schools

Research has indicated that both boys and girls begin to lose interest in science as early as elementary school, where about one-third of students in fourth grade express negative attitudes. By eighth grade that number has grown to almost half.

According to a Bayer Corp. 2004 survey of elementary teachers, 61 percent of teachers feel they are very qualified to teach science, but only 44 percent say they are confident that today’s students are getting a good science education. Conversely, 71 percent of teachers said they feel only somewhat, a little or not at all science-literate.

More than 80 percent of elementary school teachers are women. As a University that includes the nation’s largest college for women, St. Catherine is uniquely positioned to help women build their confidence and competence in STEM subjects.

For more information, visit  STEM.stkate.edu.

Aug. 6, 2010 by Julie Michener

See also: Education, STEM