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Sac State works with area educators to help them update student teachers’ approach to STEM

Participating in the federal grant-funded STEM-POWER program at Sac State, teachers visited the University's garden, while learning new STEM teaching approaches to share with aspiring educators. (Sacramento State/Rob Neep)

School might be out for summer for many, but not for 110 Sacramento-area educators.

Days after the 2021-22 school year ended, local teachers and College of Education faculty were back at Sacramento State learning ways to train and support the next generation of high-quality science and math teachers.

In 2018, Sacramento State received a five-year $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch STEM-POWER, a program aimed at developing and implementing better ways to teach math and science to kids. Math and science are part of the STEM – science, technology, engineering, math – disciplines.

STEM teachers BAC Yard
Bee hives were a point of interest to teachers participating in the STEM-POWER program at Sac State. (Sacramento State/Rob Neep)

California’s rigorous K-12 math and science standards, adopted in 2012, emphasize analyzing and applying concepts more than memorizing facts and figures – a dramatic shift from how most teachers and teacher candidates learned.

“It used to be if you were really good at science, you had a bunch of flash cards and memorized a lot of facts,” said Sue Baker, an Education professor and STEM-POWER program director.

“That shift in all content areas to learning through questioning and through discussion can be hard. It’s hard for our cooperating teachers because it’s a lot more work and a lot less control. … And our student teachers, who were so successful, they want to spend the rest of their lives in school, they’re like, ‘Where are my flash cards?’ ”

STEM-POWER brings together various stakeholders involved with training teacher candidates, including their University professors, classroom supervisors, and the local teachers mentoring them.

The better prepared new teachers are, the more successful they will be in the classroom. Ultimately, Baker hopes programs like STEM-POWER will produce highly trained teachers who will stay in education.

In recent years, California school districts were experiencing teacher shortages, Baker said.

“Ninety percent of those vacancies are not because teachers were moving to another building,” she said. “It’s because they’re leaving the profession.”

School districts invest an estimated $21,000 per teacher in training and induction costs, money that is lost when a teacher leaves the profession, Baker said.

STEM teachers wave
A friendly wave suggests teachers were enjoying the STEM-POWER prgram at Sac State, where they engaged with new STEM teaching techniques to share with teachers joining the profession. (Sacramento State/Rob Neep)

“With the mass exodus of teachers in the profession right now, I think adequately preparing them is step one,” said Brittany Martin, a fourth-grade teacher at Elder Creek Elementary School in south Sacramento.

Baker collaborated with Sac State Sustainability to give STEM-POWER participants some hands-on experience in the garden, learning about plants, soil and bees. They also scooped compost made in the BAC Yard, or Bioconversion and Agricultural Collaborative.

Uzma Saeed, a lecturer and supervisor in the College of Education’s Teaching Credentials program, said working in the University’s garden with teachers in person was a welcome change after two years of mostly Zooming.

“The more you can learn in person and experience these things firsthand, the easier and better you can relay to the teacher candidates,” Saeed said. “The more we learn from nature, the more we can impart that knowledge to them. In some ways, we’re learning what our candidates will be going through.”

Sacramento State graduate Holly Holmgren, 27, has taught for three years and will be mentoring a student teacher this fall at Starr King TK8 in Carmichael.

“I’m very passionate about education, and I would like to help shape the future of educators while building positive relationships with new teachers,” Holmgren said.

“Having a positive mentor can help you once you become a classroom teacher. I still keep in touch with the ones I had when I was in the program.”

With one year left in the grant, Baker is pursuing additional funding and hopes to expand STEM-POWER beyond San Juan and Sacramento City unified school districts.

Being on Zoom wasn’t all bad. It helped the program save some money, and now Baker is working with community partner Soil Born Farms to help local teachers build gardens at their schools.

Further, giving up a week of summer break wasn’t a problem for Elder Creek fourth-grade teacher Thomas Viducich.

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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