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COE alum receives nation’s highest science teaching honor

Only America’s most exceptional teachers find themselves strolling through the White House discussing education policy with Vice President Joe Biden. COE alumnus Eric Grunden (MEd ’94, science education) recently got the VIP treatment from Biden and the White House staff after receiving the nation’s highest honor in the science teaching profession.

Grunden was one of 97 educators across the country to receive the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in a ceremony at the White House.  The honor came with a certificate signed by President Obama, an all-expense-paid trip for two to the capital and a $10,000 stipend from the National Science Foundation. President Obama was scheduled to attend the ceremony but had to make an emergency trip to visit the victims of the Colorado wildfires.

“I had been to the White House before as a tourist, but this was special,” Grunden said.  “We got to come in through the back entrance, and I got to meet Bo, the (Obama family) dog – all that was important, but it was nice to feel validated and meet other educators who think like me.”

The Presidential awards are given annually to one math and one science teacher in grades K-12 from each state based on the quality of instruction in their classrooms. Grunden thinks it’s his knowledge of chemistry and teaching skills he honed during his master’s degree coursework in science education at UF that made him stand out as an applicant.

“I think it’s more important to teach less content at a deeper level so students get an appreciation for the system. It’s like cooking: you can teach somebody a recipe, but understanding why you need to add sugar at that point or why  you need to do this over low heat allows you to make your own recipes, and then you’re a chef,” Grunden said.

Grunden has been the science department chair at Raleigh (N.C.) Charter High School since 2000 but got his first teaching job at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School after graduation from UF in 1993. He said he still draws on his experience at PKY because it was a small, innovative school much like the school he’s at now.

His science education professor at UF, Linda Jones, recommended Grunden for his first teaching position at P.K. Yonge and said chemistry class enrollment at the school soared after he began teaching.

During his Washington, D.C. visit, Grunder poses a question to physicist Jim Gates, a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, at a recent council meeting. (Photo courtesy of National Science Foundation)

“He taught chemistry like a magician or showman,” Jones said. “Students don’t even realize they’re in a chemistry class because they’re having so much fun.”

Jones said Grunden, who has been a contestant on the TV game show “Jeopardy!,” is the second UF education alumnus to win the Presidential Award – the first was her husband, Griffith Jones, a master science teacher with the College of Education’s UFTeach program, who won in 1998.

Grunden describes his teaching style as Socratic because he believes having students ask questions of themselves helps them realize what they already know and apply it to different situations.

“Our students are very sophisticated,” Grunden said. “I look at the things they do every day with technology, and I think, ‘if they can do that, they can do this, too.’”

With 17 years of teaching experience,, his latest venture is founding a science-and-mathematics-focused charter school in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, which opened in mid-August with 160 new freshmen. The high school’s neighbors include science and engineering giants such as GlaxoSmithKline to give students opportunities for interaction and internships, much like his nonprofit, the Contemporary Science Center, that places teens in day-long field trips giving them a firsthand look at what scientists do on a daily basis.

“I never wanted to be anything other than a classroom teacher, and when the board of directors asked me to be the school leader, I reluctantly accepted. Since then, I’ve realized that this is a lot of fun, so I don’t know where this is going to take me,” Grunden said. “I’d like to see this school go for a while, certainly through the first graduating class, but who knows after that?”

Professor Jones said it’s like Grunden to leave you guessing.

“You never know what’s going to come next with Eric, but, whatever it is, it turns to gold.”

WRITER: Jessica Bradley, student intern, news & communications, UF College of Education
Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;


UF Teach receives share of $500,000 award from AT&T

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — UF Teach, a novel program considered to be the pillar of the UF College of Education’s science and math education reform strategy, will split $500,000 in support from AT&T with four other universities with similar programs, according to an announcement Jan. 19 by the National Math and Science Initiative.

From left: FSU President Eric Barron; Marshall Criser III, AT&T Florida President and UF trustee; Glenn Good, dean of the UF College of Education; and UF President Bernie Machen pose with oversized checks from AT&T.

The five benefiting programs, all modeled after the highly regarded UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin, will each receive $100,000. AT&T presented awards to UF Teach and to model programs at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Irvine, the University of Northern Arizona and Florida State University.

“AT&T deserves tremendous credit for its foresight in recognizing the growing importance of math and science education,” UF President Bernie Machen said. “If you want to get students interested in those fields, you have to reach them early. This gift is a long-range investment that will help the University of Florida graduate the teachers that are needed to keep our state and our nation economically competitive for years to come.”

UF Teach is a collaboration between the university’s College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the goal is to recruit the best math and science majors and prepare them to teach effectively. Master science and math teachers from the education college induct the students into the community of teachers by showing them the most effective, research-proven teaching methods in the given content areas and exposing them to supervised classroom experiences with schoolchildren beginning in their first semester.

The program, in its fourth year, offers education minors for their efforts in hopes the students will teach. Their degrees qualify them for teaching certification in Florida schools. Tom Dana, associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Education, co-directs UF Teach with Alan Dorsey, a physics professor and an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The first UF Teach class of 41 students enrolled in 2008, and enrollment jumped to 224 last spring. UF officials project that by 2015, UF Teach will graduate more than 60 students yearly who will be certified, and highly qualified, to teach middle and high school math and science in Florida schools. Dana said the number of math and science students in Florida served by UF Teach graduates should top 25,000 by 2015 and continue to grow exponentially each year.

NMSI has partnered with the UTeach Institute to implement the path-breaking program for recruiting and preparing math and science teachers in universities across the country since 2008 and is helping expand the program to 28 universities this fall. Enrollment in UTeach-modeled programs has tripled in the last three years, attracting more than 5,000 math and science majors across the country this fall.

“AT&T is acutely aware that our country needs more skilled workers in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Marshall Criser III, AT&T Florida president and UF trustee. “All Americans will need to be more STEM proficient to be competitive in the 21st century.”

UTeach originated at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997. The program enables students majoring in math, science, or computer science to receive full teaching certification without adding time or cost to their degrees.

The core elements of UTeach model programs include:

  • Active recruitment and incentives, such as offering the first two courses for free.
  • A compact degree program that allows students to graduate in four years with both a degree and teaching certification.
  • A strong focus on acquiring deep content knowledge in math and science, in addition to research-based teaching strategies focusing on teaching and learning math and science.
  • Early and intensive field teaching experience, beginning in the UTeach students’ first semester.
  • Personal guidance from experienced master teachers, faculty and public school teachers.

The National Math and Science Initiative was launched in 2007 by top leaders in business, education, and science to reverse the decline in American math and science education. Inaugural funding was provided by the Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

CONTACT: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;