According to the American Association for Employment in Education, one of the greatest areas of teacher shortages around the nation is in the physical sciences. But Michael Clough and Joanne Olson don't need a report to know that.
In fact, Clough and Olson, both associate professors of science education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University, say they're not only working to increase the number of science teachers, but ensuring these teachers are some of the best in the nation.
"In 2003, the Board of Regents approved our Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program in secondary science education," Clough said. "This is targeted to the student who earns his or her bachelor's degree in a science field – say physics or biology – and then comes back for an intensive 15-month program to earn a teaching degree. I would venture to say it's one of the best, most rigorous programs out there."
The M.A.T. program is a scientist-turned-teacher's dream, Olson said. Their undergraduate years in college are spent becoming an expert in their chosen area of science, and with that knowledge, plus a deep understanding of teaching and learning gained in the M.A.T. program, they experience great success in helping students grasp scientific concepts and ways of thinking.
So much success, in fact, that the Iowa State secondary science M.A.T. program's graduates are gaining national recognition at a rate that may exceed any other program in the nation. Since 2003, eight Iowa State M.A.T. grads have received the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award for New Teachers – an award given to up to 25 teachers nationwide for exceptional science teaching within their first five years in the classroom. Elizabeth Potter-Nelson, a 2006 M.A.T. graduate and chemistry and physics teacher at Lakes Community High School, Lake Villa, Ill., was a recipient of the award in 2007.
"If it hadn't been for the strong mentoring program and work with cooperative science teachers in nearby school districts, I don't know that I would be the teacher that I am today," Potter-Nelson said. "So many things about the M.A.T. program at Iowa State are part of my daily life. Sometimes, I take it for granted that I understand not only the content, but how to connect students to thinking like a scientist. Iowa State taught me how to do that, and it makes a difference in the classroom."
Chemistry and biology teacher Scott Moore of Ankeny High School, a 2009 NSTA Maitland Award winner and 2010 NSTA New Science Teacher Academy fellow, said the science-specific education courses and hands-on experiences during the program made a large difference in the way he approached teaching his high school biology and chemistry classes.
"One of the primary things I use from the methods courses is learning about our specific interaction patterns with students," Moore said. "By understanding how I can best interact with my classes, I help them learn, challenge their thinking, and keep them focused on the concept at hand. It's something that has helped me be an effective educator since day one."
See related story: http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2011/jun/science