STEM Ed Centers: A National Conversation > Center Profiles > Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, Western Washington University
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Science, Mathematics and Technology Education

Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, Western Washington University
Established: 1996

Profile submitted by Ed Geary

Vision and Goals

The mission of the Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Program at Western Washington University is to be a national model of the highest quality preparation of future elementary and secondary science teachers; to participate in research and dissemination of new knowledge in science education and education reform to the university and K-12 communities; and to serve as a valuable science and education resource to the university and broader community.

Center/Program Structure

SMATE is a program within the College of Sciences and Technology (CST) but with strong collaboration with Woodring, College of Education. Currently, six disciplinary faculty from Physics (1), Chemistry (1), Biology (2), and Geology (2) have split (50:50) appointments between their department and SMATE. A search is currently underway for a second Chemistry/Education position and a second Physics/Education position and a Computer Science/Education position are currently under discussion. In addition, 2 education faculty from Woodring, have split (50:50) appointments with SMATE. Two Mathematics Education faculty also work with SMATE on a regular basis, but are full time in Mathematics. All faculty are promoted and tenured within their disciplinary units, with the SMATE Director providing input on tenure and promotion decisions to the departments. The Director has a nine month dual appointment in SMATE and a disciplinary department. He/She oversees the operations, budget, strategic planning activities and evaluation of SMATE, but works collaboratively with SMATE faculty and staff, department chairs and the Deans of CST and Education to achieve program, college, and university goals. SMATE is supported by two full-time staff; a program manager-administrative assistant, and an assistant director who oversees the STEM education resource center. In addition several research associates (including experts in program and project evaluation, teacher professional development, and whole school reform) are supported by grants from NSF, State and Federal Departments of Education, and other external funding sources.

Description of Programming

SMATE's primary focus is the preparation of future STEM teachers. We are recognized both in the state and nationally for the quality of our graduates, the strength of our faculty, and for our innovative courses and curricula. Our Elementary Science Education courses in physics, geology, biology and chemistry promote student-centered learning utilizing a curriculum based on Physics in Everyday Thinking (PET). SMATE faculty have used PET as a model to develop Geology in Everyday Thinking (GET) and Life Science in Everyday Thinking (LSET) curricula. In addition, our Science Methods and Practicum courses provide students with rich, diverse, hands-on classroom teaching experiences, and our faculty regularly engage undergraduates in scientific and education research.

SMATE is also recognized for its work to increase STEM teaching, learning and leadership within K-12 schools. Our North Cascades Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) program (NSF 2003-2012) coupled with grants from Washington State have helped to create a strong regional STEM education infrastructure. Current SMATE efforts are focused on professional development around whole school reform using STEM as a core focus, but involving language arts and other non-STEM educators and administrators.

Successes and Impacts

Western pre-service elementary and secondary STEM teachers (approximately 50/year) consistently score well above the average on the WEST-E, Washington's STEM teacher certification exam and Western STEM teacher graduates are in high demand from Washington K-12 schools

The North Cascades Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) (NSF-MSP-0315060) brought STEM faculty at WWU, Whatcom Community College (WCC) and Skagit Valley College (SVC) together with K-12 educators in Northwest Washington to help improve K-12 STEM education. Results of this project include: (a) constructivist, student-centered curriculum in physics, geology, and biology for pre-service elementary teachers that is now taught at all three institutions, (b) a core group of WWU, WCC, and SVC STEM faculty who are knowledgeable about and facile with elicitation of student's prior ideas, engaging students in peer-group learning, regularly assessing student progress toward learning goals, and having students reflect on their own learning, and (c) demonstrable improvements in science achievement, leadership capacity, and teaching in dozens of K-12 schools in Washington State as documented by internal and external project evaluators and by changes in state science achievement scores for students and schools.

Two subsequent collaborative CCLI grants, Chemistry for the Informed Citizen, (NSF-0737551), and Building a Life Science Curriculum for Elementary Teachers (NSF-0942446), resulted in new chemistry and life science curricula for pre-service teachers. Life Science in Everyday Thinking, a product of this effort, is in the process of being published by Its About Time, and the chemistry curriculum has been adapted for use in large-enrollment non-majors chemistry courses. Significant increases in learning gains over their lecture-based equivalents have been demonstrated for both curricula. In addition, our current MORE project (NSF-DRK-12) is examining the impact of our Elementary Science curriculum on scientific understanding and pedagogical content knowledge of future teachers.

Elements Contributing to Success

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