Ambitious effort to curb shortage of math, science teachers gets boost

Posted May 20, 2009

A no-holds-barred effort at the University of Florida to reverse the dire shortage of science and mathematics graduates has received a welcome financial boost that promises to improve the recruitment and education of future teachers in the technical fields.

UFTeach, a new teacher education program that takes a radically different approach to teacher recruitment in mathematics, science and computer science, recently garnered a $50,000 grant from the Frances C. and William P. Smallwood Foundation, a Texas-based family foundation with a history of making grants in situations where a little funding can have a big impact.

UFTeach, a joint project of UF’s College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was created in 2008 to recruit, train and retain top students on the UF campus to become middle and high school math and science teachers. The new funding from the Smallwood Foundation, renewable on a yearly basis, provides $3,000 stipends for 10 new undergraduate internships in middle and high school science and math teaching, and funds 10 awards worth $1,000 each to recognize deserving mentor teachers in area public schools for mentoring UFTeach students in their classrooms.

The Smallwood grant also funds course development expenses for two selected UF “master teachers” with individual $3,500 stipends. Some minor administrative expenses also are covered.

“The Smallwood Foundation awards benefit 22 individual students, mentor teachers and UF faculty involved in UFTeach, but their impact is far greater,” said Tom Dana (right), associate dean of academic affairs at UF’s College of Education. “For instance, the Smallwood undergraduate interns will work with groups of middle and high school students, fostering their understanding and appreciation of science and mathematics. Likewise, the courses developed by the UFTeach faculty will be taken by hundreds of students once the program is in full swing, and can inspire other faculty to also develop courses.”

Dana co-directs UFTeach along with Alan Dorsey, physics chair in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Supported by start-up grants in 2007 totaling $2.4 million from the National Math and Science Initiative and the Helios Education Foundation, UFTeach uses innovative recruiting strategies to draw UF’s best and brightest math and science majors into teaching, and supports these new teachers through their induction years. Students are exposed to supervised, classroom teaching experiences beginning in the first semester of the program. The program is modeled after the highly successful UTeach program at the University of Texas-Austin.

UFTeach enrolled its first 33-member class of students last fall and 25 will continue next fall with “Step 2” coursework, which includes supervised teaching at local middle schools. Thirty-three more students started the program in the spring.

“The current shortage of science and mathematics graduates has led to a crisis in the K-12 classroom, where growing numbers of children learn science and math from teachers with degrees in other fields,” Dana said. ““By 2012, we hope to have more than 400 students enrolled in UFTeach, with the goal of graduating 80 students every year into the teaching ranks. This will have a dramatic impact on Florida’s efforts to stop the downward spiral in the technology-related disciplines. This needs to happen across the nation to help move America back to the forefront of science and technology with their global competition.”

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    SOURCE: Tom Dana, Associate Dean, UF College of Education;

    WRITER: Larry Lansford, Director, COE News & Communications;