UT Wins $1.8M Grant to Boost Math and Science Teaching Statewide
KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will receive as much as $1.8 million from the state of Tennessee to launch VolsTeach, a new program to improve the quantity and quality of mathematics and science teachers.
The grant will allow the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences to replicate UTeach, a proven model developed by the University of Texas, Austin.
Through VolsTeach, UT will convert its current teacher training program in math and science from a five to a four-year program and integrate field experiences into all four years.
UT Knoxville will receive the funds over five years. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and the Tennessee State Department of Education (TDOE) allocated funds to support the UTeach replication. The university has committed to invest $2 million over the same time period.
“We are pleased to take the leading role in bringing this successful national model to the state of Tennessee,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “With our well-qualified faculty and staff, we will help solve a serious problem, not just for Tennessee, but for our nation.”
VolsTeach students will earn a bachelor’s degree in a math or science field as well as a teaching certificate. UT’s teacher training for all other subjects will remain on the five-year program.
“The state of Tennessee is in desperate need of more well-qualified math and science teachers,” said UT Education Professor Susan Benner, who is a co-director of the grant. “At UT, we currently have a very excellent teacher training program in these areas, but we are producing a very small number of STEM teachers.”
The program will begin for new students in fall 2010, with the goal of enrolling 200 students in four years. Currently, UT Knoxville graduates an average of 14 students who receive licenses in the math or science disciplines per academic year.
Students will have access to paid internships and unique opportunities for community outreach. To spark additional interest, freshmen in math and science will be invited to take two, one-credit teacher education courses at no cost. The courses will combine classroom learning with field experience — all meant to bring teaching to the forefront as a viable and rewarding career option.
The successful model — developed by the University of Texas in 1997 — involves early classroom experiences and support from experienced master teachers, as well as peers. The grant provides for social and educational programming and opportunities for networking through new VolsTeach program quarters in Greve Hall, complete with study lounge, workroom and resource library.
“They will be well supported through this process, through advising and mentoring, because that component is critical to their success,” said Susan Riechert, professor of biology and developer of the popular “biology in a box” program for K-12 teachers and their classes. She serves in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology and is a Distinguished Service Professor.
As the other grant co-director, Riechert will help students develop their lessons. Partnerships with Knox County, Anderson County and Roane County schools will support the students’ mentoring and field experience.
During the fall semester of their freshman year, VolsTeach students will develop and practice one lesson and then go out into an elementary school classroom and teach it. During the spring semester, they’ll do the same thing at the middle school level.
Thirteen universities have replicated the UTeach model, including the University of Florida, University of Colorado, University of California, Berkeley, and Louisiana State University.
In addition to the current shortage, state Department of Education officials have projected needing a significant number of additional math and science teachers in the future. The Tennessee Board of Education added to the high school graduation an additional math and laboratory science credit, bringing the total to four and three units, respectively, among other changes. The change took effect for this year’s freshmen.
UT’s teacher preparation is currently a five-year process, regardless of subject area. Students first earn a bachelor’s degree in their chosen discipline from the College of Arts and Sciences, along with a minor in teacher education. After graduating, they complete the requirements for teacher licensure, which involves additional coursework and a full school year teaching internship through the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
The UT proposal began with Education Health and Human Sciences Dean Bob Rider and Arts and Sciences Dean Bruce Bursten, who serve as co-principal investigators on the grant.
Through this grant program, four Tennessee institutions of higher learning were invited to submit proposals to replicate UTeach. UT Knoxville and Middle Tennessee State University were selected. The two other universities — UT Chattanooga and the University of Memphis — may be funded at a later date, state officials said.
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Karen Collins (865-974-5186, email@example.com)