- Year 2017
- NSF Noyce Award # 1540794
- First Name Meena
- Last Name Balgopal
Andrea Weinberg, Andrea.firstname.lastname@example.org, Colorado State University
Laura Sample McMeeking, Laura.email@example.com, Colorado State University
Paul Kennedy, Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org, Colorado State University
Janice Nerger, Janice.email@example.com, Colorado State University
Thomas Siller, Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org, Colorado State University
Meena Balgopal, Colorado State University, email@example.com
DeeDee Wright, Colorado State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Historically in the US, some students are underrepresented in STEM fields. Minorities make up only ~30% and women only 26% of the US STEM workforce. Some students do not feel prepared or motivated to study STEM; others feel excluded and leave. Quality STEM teachers, particularly in high needs schools, can advance efforts to close these gaps. However, 17-50% of K-12 teachers leave within the first 5 years. This trend is exacerbated at high-poverty schools (where > 50% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch). Quality science teachers need both strong content and pedagogical knowledge, but this is not enough. Developing personal adaptive capacity to maintain function through the disturbances encountered in the first years of teaching is essential. This project proposes to study how professional development in place-based education paired with mentoring supports teacher resilience and is associated with STEM teacher retention and student achievement for teachers in high-needs school districts.
The overarching goal of the project is to develop resilient pre-service Noyce teachers by providing them with tools to be successful as they begin their professional career and encounter a changing education landscape. This will be accomplished using a two-pronged approach of mentoring and place-based education curriculum. Through mentoring, pre-service teachers will build a relationship with a seasoned professional teacher providing opportunities to share celebrations and explore challenges together. Through the place-based education professional development, pre-service teachers will develop skills to lead inquiry into local issues defined by student driven questions and connections to community resources. The crux of the plan is developing relationships with other teachers, with students and with local businesses and organizations.
The proposed project will examine human interaction between mentors and mentees through a social ecological systems (SES) framework. SESs are complex and adaptive, link the parts of the system through feedback mechanisms, and display resilience. System dynamics is examined using the distinct phases of the adaptive cycle: growth/ exploitation (r), maintenance/ conservation (K), disturbance/ collapse (Ω), and reorganization/ persistence (α). Resilience is the key to enhancing adaptive capacity leading to growth. Likewise, systems in place for developing the next generation of K-12 STEM educators demonstrate the same characteristics of complexity, feedback, and resilience. Through multiple iterations of an adaptive cycle pre-service teachers move through the distinct phases of the cycle as they transform into resilient teachers, who demonstrate growth and transformation (GaT). This journey for teachers from student to novice to professional teacher can be described through cross-scale interactions. All systems exist and function at multiple scales of space, time and social organization. Missing from the typical STEM teacher preparation program, though, is a critical examination of helping students build adaptive capacity skills to cope with dynamic school landscapes. Mentors can increase novice teachers’ self-efficacy and resourcefulness. Engaging students in place-based education (PBE) of locally-relevant socio-scientific environmental issues (e.g., water pollution) can help novice teachers feel connected to their new students and communities, and help students participate in authentic STEM practices and discourse.
This project is in its infancy which means we are asking the following questions:
Question 1: How do teacher-mentor relationships build teacher adaptive capacity? Mentor/mentee relationships allow discussions regarding disturbances and successes in the adaptive education landscape. I predict that novice teachers who find their own mentors are more likely to persist and thrive in the high-needs K-12 schools and have more students demonstrate increased STEM achievement and attitudes than peers who do not find mentors. Question 2: How can teachers who demonstrate personal adaptive capacity manage dynamic K-12 education landscapes? Connecting with the local environment develops a sense of place and belonging. I predict that novice teachers who use PBE that connects them and their students to the local community and environment are more likely to develop a strong adaptive capacity to connect to the educational environment, and in turn, demonstrate resilience by persisting in high-needs schools, than teachers who do not use PBE. Question 3: What is the correlation between attributes of both the a) mentoring and b) curriculum program with student success? I predict that students who participate in PBE are more likely to (i) persist in STEM studies in the following school year and (ii) demonstrate greater interests in pursuing post-secondary STEM education that students whose teachers do not use PBE. The work or our Noyce Research group over the next few years will be the pursuit of answers to these complex questions.
The proposed research approach to examine STEM teacher preparation through an SES lens is novel and will inform STEM educators how to best prepare and support novice teachers to persist and excel in high needs schools and benefitting students. We predict that this model of professional development will increase STEM teacher resilience (“grit”) while reinforcing STEM content/competencies necessary to increase students’ scientific literacy.
The average secondary classroom has 27 students; if each novice teacher has six classes, they will teach 324 students in high-needs schools over two years. Thus, the 12 intervention teachers will impact the lives of 3,888 students, with an additional 3,888 control students participating (total n=7,776). Twelve novice teachers (intervention) will receive the chance to earn university credit through continuing education through CSU.