Empowering K-12 Stem Teachers Through A Bioscience Academy

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Project Description

Empowering K-12 STEM Teachers through a Bioscience Academy. United States science education is in crisis. Top-down approaches failed to improve test scores at middle and high school levels and teachers lost the ability to direct the content taught. This proposal seeks to improve the STEM education workforce through an in-service K-12 bioscience teacher academy. The academy promotes K-12 teachers’ collaborative work across school districts to support each other. San Antonio teachers self- organized and created three approaches: Teacher Professional Development ([1] Peer Mentoring – teachers coach each other and [2] teachers learn to write small grants to obtain resources for their classrooms), and Community Engagement ([3] Improve school science nights and get parents involved). Educational practices from this teacher-led community-based participatory program will provide models that improve biosciences and STEM education and better prepare students for science careers.


Empowering K-12 STEM Teachers through a Bioscience Academy United States science education is in crisis. In spite of efforts to make school districts accountable through the ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation, the top-down approaches employed failed to yield improved secondary educational outcomes. In 2013, to address the challenges of improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, a national committee’s (CoSTEM) first strategic priority to improve STEM Instruction emphatically proposes to ‘prepare 100,000 excellent new K-12 STEM teachers by 2020, and support the existing STEM teacher workforce.’ This proposal directly addresses this priority, specifically supporting the existing STEM teacher workforce. To improve in-service teacher STEM instruction, we used community engagement processes to establish the Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy (VBTA) in 2010 with the vision to create a learning community of empowered public school teachers. By engaging the in-service teacher community, the VBTA is growing into an effective network that works across schools and school districts. The VBTA disseminates best practices, offers teacher professional development, establishes peer-mentoring networks, and creates a culture that fosters independent, active life-long learning. To accomplish these missions, the VBTA teachers prioritized needs across their school districts, self-organized, and established three teacher-led committees that form the constructs for this SEPA proposal’s Specific Aims: Extending In-depth Teacher Professional Development (Peer Mentoring and Grant Writing) and Community Engagement. Our specific aims to accelerate VBTA development and support the existing STEM workforce are: 1. Extend In-depth Bioscience Teacher Professional Development through: A. Peer Mentoring: The VBTA will promote peer mentoring through the process of STEM curriculum development aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), teacher led discussions of current pedagogical techniques, and organization and delivery of annual fall and spring Conferences. B. Grant Writing: In monthly workshops, teachers will receive grant writing instruction (a novel aspect of professional development) to obtain resources from local school foundations, businesses, and municipal and state governments to enhance STEM education. 2. Community Engagement: Develop multidisciplinary teams of teachers to directly support classroom science nights. Teachers at local schools may request help to organize, conduct, and evaluate science nights for their students and parents. A multidisciplinary VBTA teacher team will develop kits and work with STEM educators to successfully promote science education in their schools. With SEPA support, we will build on the preliminary foundations laid from 2010-2015, evaluate, and transform the VBTA into a sustained network of empowered effective K-12 STEM educators. Lessons and practices from these community-based participatory TPD programs will provide adaptive in-service teacher-led models to improve US bioscience and STEM education.