Three researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) received a one-year, $75,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to plan how to combat the STEM teacher shortage in high-need school districts. The grant is part of the NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides funding to colleges and universities to recruit and prepare STEM majors to become K-12 teachers. WPI hopes to establish a Noyce Track 1 program, which focuses on supporting undergraduate STEM majors to become certified teachers through scholarships and early field experiences in the greater Worcester community.
The prevalent shortage of STEM teachers in K-12 schools is exacerbated in high-need districts that have also endured systemic racism and underfunding, said Kathy Chen, executive director of WPI’s STEM Education Center and principal investigator on the grant. In particular, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) reported that, among all academic disciplines, U.S. school districts consistently rank physics as the area with the most significant shortage of teachers.
Through the grant, “Building the Capacity for Noyce Scholars to Address the Urban STEM Teacher Shortage in Massachusetts,” Chen, Shari Weaver, director of the Teacher Preparation Program (TPP), and Doug Petkie, professor and department head of Physics, aim to better support students who plan to become teachers of STEM subjects and diversify the future pool of potential Noyce Scholars at the university. They plan to build strong partnerships with local, high-need schools that will supervise, mentor, and potentially hire Noyce Scholars who complete the program.
“Students do come to WPI for STEM and teaching. This grant will allow us to look for areas of improvement in our TPP, where we can grow and develop in more in-depth ways,” said Weaver, who is a former high school biology and physics teacher. “It will support future STEM teachers in their growth as professionals and have a great impact on the education community.”
The grant will examine how undergraduates currently prepare to become STEM teachers, and will identify any unmet needs and barriers that may prevent them from becoming teachers in the K-12 classrooms after graduation. Included in that preparation is training TPP students with culturally responsive teaching/pedagogy and equity mindfulness. The grant will also pinpoint key requirements that high-need K-12 schools look for when hiring teacher candidates. Chen, Weaver, and Petkie will collect data via surveys, interviews, and focus groups of schools and WPI students in the TPP who are student-teaching, or preparing to student-teach, in high-need schools.
“We want to understand public schools’ hiring practices and what they’re looking for in teacher candidates,” said Chen. “We’re also looking for ways to help our student teachers make the smoothest transition into the classroom. This project is aligned with our mission to improve and transform STEM education in K-12 schools, and encourage WPI students to be a part of that improvement.”