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One of the nation’s educational goals is to improve the teaching of science, math and technology.
Often referred to as STEM (for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), the opportunities in the Pottstown School District are about to expand significantly.
Recently Myra Forrest, the executive director of the Foundation for Pottstown Education, informed the school board of a regional grant which will not only provide additional science and math training for teachers, as well as a free science summer camp for students and even a mobile geodome planetarium.
Forrest told the board that the district has been formally invited to participate in the Pennsylvania Multi-Region Stem Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant by David B. Morgan, project’s director in the region and a colleague Forrest knows form her time teaching at Immaculata University.
Partners of the program include the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Immaculata, University of Pittsburgh, University of Scranton, Lycoming College, Albright College and Bucknell University.
Through the program, teachers receive and are paid for 108 hours of professional development in science and math common core standards at no cost to the district.
Teachers can also receive up to six graduate credits in STEM education topics through the program, she said.
In addition to paying the teachers for this additional training, most of which occurs in the summer, the grant also provides accompanying materials for use in the classroom and a new iPad for teachers to use within the confines of grant activities.
Districts will also be aided in providing a free “Summer of Innovation Student Camp” for grades 4-9, according to the terms of the grant.
The district would also benefit from a geodome planetarium with a high-end infrared camera worth $100,000 and moved among the participating districts.
“This grant is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and I’ve already received applications from teachers and many others have already verbally committed to it,” she said.
“It would be super if 40 teachers signed up because there’s no limit to it,” said Forrest, herself a former assistant superintendent in Pottstown and a former superintendent of the Owen J. Roberts School District.
“This is a phenomenal thing for this district,” she said.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for teachers and the kids,” said School Board President Judyth Zahora.
In July, Pottstown High School was named among four schools in Montgomery County that the Pennsylvania Department of Education considers to be under-achieving.
The culprit was determined to be the school’s math scores on the standardized Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests and the district was already moving to re-vamp its math program at the school.
In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that more than two-thirds of U.S. eight graders still lack a solid grasp of science facts, according to figures released in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress
The exam is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and showed that only 32% of students were proficient in science.
Scores release last month for The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s PIRLS and TIMSS 2011 exams showed that U.S. scores improved in reading and math in the lower grades, but that those gains tend to disappear after eighth grade.
“In eighth grade math, the U.S. performed only nine points above the international average, netting a 509, and was outperformed by 11 education systems. But the gap between the tier of top-performing countries like Korea and Singapore over the U.S. was more than 100 points,” according to a Dec. 11 report in The Huffington Post.
“The 11 education systems with average grade eight mathematics scores above the U.S. average were Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, the Russian Federation, North Carolina, Quebec-Canada, and Indiana,” a report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicated.
In July, President Obama announced a $1 billion program to reward high-performing teachers with salary stipends is part of a long-term effort to encourage education in high-demand areas that hold the key to future economic growth — and to close the achievement gap between American students and their international peers — specifically focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
Teachers selected for the Master Teacher Corps will be paid an additional $20,000 a year and must commit to participate multiple years. The goal is to create a multiplier effect in which expert educators share their knowledge and skills with other teachers, improving the quality of education for all students.
A report released in February by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology found that the U.S. must increase by 34 percent the number of students receiving degrees in science, math and related fields to keep up with economic demand.
The program will start with 2,500 teachers divided up among 50 different sites, the White House said, but will grow to include 10,000 teachers over the next four years. Obama, in partnership with a coalition of groups including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has set a goal of producing 100,000 additional math and science teachers over the next 10 years.