The University of South Alabama’s College of Education has received a $462,000 grant to create the Alabama Math, Science, Technology Initiative, AMSTI-USA Professional Development Project, which provides a culture of increased learning for teachers with respect to the Common Core mathematics standards resulting in increased student achievement.
Part of the grant calls for the implementation of a comprehensive three-year academic summer camp for middle school mathematics teachers and students in the Mobile and Baldwin County Public School Systems.
Teachers are able to enhance their teaching skills at a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM, summer camp. This program integrates teacher professional development with student learning, which is unique for Alabama schools. The grant focuses on mathematics teachers from Central Baldwin, Chastang, Grand Bay and Mae Eanes Middle Schools. The summer camp was held at Baker High School.
The grant, awarded by the Alabama Department of Education, has the capacity to serve up to 540 students per year. The collaborating partners are USA’s Colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences, the USA Center for Integrative Studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, CISSTEM; AMSTI-USA, Mobile and Baldwin County School Systems; and the Mobile Area Education Foundation’s Engaging Youth in Engineering program.
“This STEM summer camp creates a culture of increased learning in a diverse environment for the students and teachers,” said Dr. Andre Green, associate professor in the department of leadership and teacher education in the USA College of Education. “This camp allows students to increase pedagogical knowledge in math, science and engineering. One of the focuses of the grant is to allow teachers the opportunity to both enhance and try new teaching methods that are hands-on and inquiry-based learning in an environment, free of standardized tests.”
Green said when teachers discover that they are more likely to achieve better results with an inquiry-based teaching approach, both teachers and students benefit. He said the results show that students are enjoying STEM subjects better.
Will Lewis, AMSTI-USA PDP program administrator, said the STEM summer camp is structured and meets the standards of the Alabama Courses of Study. One goal of this summer camp is to increase student achievement in mathematics with a focus on science and engineering through real-world applications.
“Overall, this project is exceeding expectations,” Lewis noted, “Teachers are pleased to see students achieve at a high level. This means that when teachers have high expectations, students will rise to meet the challenges.”
The principal investigator for the grant is Green and the co-principal investigators are Dr. Phil Feldman, associate dean and Dr. Julie Cwikla, professor in the College of Education; Dr. Cornelius Pillen and Dr. Vasiliy Prokhorov, USA College of Arts and Sciences professors in the department of mathematics and statistics.
The teachers work in teams of three to help ensure that students have individual support in the classroom. Jeremy Hunter teaches eighth-grade physical science and serves as department chair at Hankins Middle School. Hunter says the problem solving opportunity this program affords the students is extremely rewarding.
“I love to teach and have fun, and seeing all kids from different schools come together to learn during a project is the best part for me,” Hunter said.
At the end of each day during the STEM summer camp, teachers in all subject areas come together to debrief about the day’s activities and talk about achievements and challenges in their teaching approach. The STEM summer camp also includes subject specific learning communities so that teachers from each school can learn from each other. In mathematics, teachers build content knowledge through participating in math circles with Pillen and Prokhorov, co-principal investigators for the grant.
During the STEM summer camp, the students are involved in numerous academically-challenging activities, such as playing board games and discussing their strategy for winning, understanding the energy of motion and how roller coasters work, explaining the distance of planets in the solar system, calculating the blood flow rate to help a patient suffering with a blood clot, and investigating a crime scene. The students enjoy being involved in this program and eagerly share how much they are learning.
“I am learning about how far the planets are from each other,” said Javon Walker, an 11- year-old sixth grade student from Phillips Preparatory Middle School. “This has been a fascinating experience.”
Any middle school student in Mobile and Baldwin counties can apply to participate in the program. Applications will be accepted in spring 2014. For more information, contact the USA School of Continuing Education and Special Programs at (251) 460-6283.