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With new minor, Carthage cultivates STEM teachers

February 22, 2014

Ally Dahms ‘14 works with first-grade students at Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC) to examine the seeds from a range of fruits. Carthage students in the new Project Lead The Way education track will teach at the school.Ally Dahms ‘14 works with first-grade students at Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC) to examine the seeds from a range of fruits. Carthage students in the new Project Lead The Way education track will teach at the school.

Partnerships bring training, field experience

As the nation’s need for graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields grows more pressing, so does the need for teachers who can provide that training. A new minor equips Carthage education students to do just that.

The new STEM minor for educators emerged from an overhaul of the College’s previous minor for prospective elementary and middle school science teachers. It received final approval in December and is now available to students. They can choose one of two tracks: Project Lead The Way or Life Science.

Education professor Prisca Moore is involved heavily in both tracks. She led the College to secure a partnership with Project Lead The Way, the nation’s leading provider of STEM education.

President Barack Obama set a goal to prepare 100,000 high-quality STEM teachers nationwide by 2021. As the only college or university in Wisconsin to form a formal partnership with PLTW, Carthage will be positioned to train those who answer that call.

“It’s an opportunity for our students that they can’t get anywhere else,” Prof. Moore said. “I can’t think of a better thing they could do to make themselves desirable teacher candidates.”

The 24-credit minor features four new courses. Students will put their training to use in area middle school classrooms during their field experiences.

Project Lead The Way track

Recently, Prof. Moore was awarded a $14,400 grant that will give Carthage’s PLTW track a significant jump-start. The one-year grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Enroth Family Fund, provides funding for two faculty members and two student interns to attend a weeklong PLTW training program this summer at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Qinzi Ji, an adjunct assistant professor of biology, will join Prof. Moore as the College’s faculty members at the intensive workshop. With financial assistance from the Office of the Provost, Prof. Moore completed another PLTW training session last summer.

To honor engineers in the family, Prof. Moore’s mother, Ceacy, contributed scholarships that will cover the cost of two additional Carthage student interns. They will receive PLTW certification after completing the workshop. The students are:

  • Ashley Mason ’14 of Johnsburg, Ill.
  • Micole Gauvin ’14 of Beloit, Wis.
  • Taylor Engle ’15 of Kenosha
  • Tori Lavey ’15 of Kenosha

To this point, PLTW workshops have been geared primarily toward existing teachers. But the organization now works with 300 schools throughout Wisconsin, and the organization has turned its eye toward new teacher candidates to cover the demand.

Jamie Huebner ‘13 helps a student care for plants in an aquaponic raft system at Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum. Carthage education students in the Project Lead The Way track will teach at the school.Jamie Huebner ‘13 helps a student care for plants in an aquaponic raft system at Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum. Carthage education students in the Project Lead The Way track will teach at the school.“We’d like some of our teacher candidates to enter the labor force with this credential in hand,” said Steve Salter, director of Project Lead The Way—Wisconsin.

The STEM minors in that track will use the knowledge to help shape lessons for middle school classes. Many likely will be placed at the Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC), a Project Lead The Way school, for their field experiences. PLTW uses hands-on projects to give students a better understanding of how classroom skills can be applied in everyday settings.

Middle school is viewed as a window of opportunity to reach students who might consider science, technology, engineering, or math careers. That becomes tougher once they reach high school, Salter said, because social pressures kick in and students have developed more concrete ideas of what they’d like to do.

“If a student doesn’t have a family member who’s an engineer, they’re not going to be made aware of that as a career opportunity,” he said. “By raising awareness at that age group, we can influence many more kids.”

Life Science track

New grant money also will help the Life Science track. The Transform Wisconsin Coalition, composed of community and health care leaders, universities, and government agencies, has pledged three more years of funding to the Food for Learning program. Prof. Moore and Mary Bohning, an adjunct faculty member in the Division of the Natural Sciences, are co-directors of the school gardening initiative.

Food for Learning partners with local schools to plant and maintain outdoor and indoor (hydroponic and aquaponic) gardens. The produce is used in school lunches and donated to food pantries. Waste composting and vermicomposting (worm bins) are practiced at some schools.

Education students who choose the track will do their fieldwork at one of the partner sites. Food for Learning is already in place at 15 schools, and Kenosha school officials have expressed an interest in further expansion.

The gardening feeds more than mouths. Carthage student teachers use it to fuel lesson plans on botany, the plant life cycle, nutrition, soil science, and sustainable gardening practices, as well as on composting.

Collaborative effort

Prof. Moore thanked Professor Kevin Crosby and Grants Director Julie Dresen for their help in establishing the minor.

Prof. Crosby, chair of the Natural Sciences division, gauged feedback from faculty and suggested suitable courses for the STEM minor. The changes are designed to give Carthage education students the tools to adapt to new, more rigorous standards that school systems in Wisconsin and other states have adopted for technology and engineering.

“The previous minor didn’t have the breadth or depth that these students need for the changing curricula,” Prof. Crosby said. “The STEM model gives students hands-on exposure to robotics and energy technologies, and it helps them understand the way technology is transforming science.”

Everyone from U.S. presidents to Microsoft has stressed the urgent need for workers with STEM skills. Some estimates suggest the education system will need to produce 1 million additional graduates in those majors over the next several years to keep the country competitive in science and technology.

That’s a daunting goal, but Carthage stands ready to pitch in.