Initial Publication Date: July 19, 2013

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 Science and Engineering (CSE) but with strong collaboration with Woodring, College of Education. Currently, eight disciplinary faculty from Physics (2), Chemistry (2), Biology (2), and Geology (2) have split (50:50) appointments between their department and SMATE. In addition, 2 education faculty from Woodring, have split (50:50) appointments with SMATE. Discussions are currently underway to add similar positions in Computer Science/Education and Engineering Education. 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 CSE and Education to achieve program, college, and university goals. SMATE is supported by two full-time staff; a SMATE manager, and a senior level administrative assistant who oversee our STEM education resource center and science education courses and students. In addition several research associates (including experts in program and project evaluation, education research, 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 more recent grants from Washington State have helped to create a strong regional STEM education infrastructure. Current SMATE efforts are focused on professional development around Middle School Math, the impact of our student-centered science courses on elementary preservice teachers, mentoring, Undergraduate STEM education reform, and improving STEM Teacher Preparation statewide.

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.

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. Our current "Change at the Core" project (NSF-WIDER) is working with 60 STEM faculty from WWU, WCC, and SVC to transform lower division STEM courses from teacher-centered to student-centered learning environments. Disciplinary teams of faculty from the three institutions are working collaboratively to learn about and implement student-centered learning strategies in their courses, develop learning progressions for the big ideas in these courses, and monitor student progress towards these goals using a vareity of formative assessment strategies. This work has the support of college administrators ranging from Department and Division Chairs, to Deans, to the Presidents if the three institutions. This support has in turn led to the development and funding by WWU of an annual Student-centered Learning Workshop for all new Faculty at Western based on the Change at the Core model.

Elements Contributing to Success

  • Strong university support for STEM education, majors, and careers with STEM being one of the five pillars of Western's strategic plan.
  • Ten faculty funded at 0.5 FTE in SMATE, plus institutional support for the Director and 2 full time staff positions
  • Institutional commitment to strong, high quality undergraduate education
  • Director of SMATE is a co-equal member of the Deans and Chairs working group
  • Western Washington University has a culture that acknowledges, supports and rewards high-quality teaching
  • Outstanding disciplinary/SMATE faculty with a strong commitment to collaboration, a passion for teaching, and active undergraduate research programs
  • Funding from NSF for the MSP-NCOSP program which led to the creation of our student-centered Elementary Science Education sequence, strengthened partnerships with K-12 schools and Community Colleges in WA state, and built leadership capacity within these schools and within SMATE. Additional funding from NSF and the State of Washington which has allowed us continue our work with K-12 teachers and principals, and begin working with College faculty on undergraduate STEM education reform
  • SMATE has four configurable classrooms, a central learning/teaching space (STEM Education Resource Center) that houses a wide range of K-12 STEM curricula, materials, and laboratory equipment, as well as offices and meeting space for faculty and staff.