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New program brings STEM teachers to Hillsborough middle schools

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Dr. Gladis Kersaint Dr. Gladis Kersaint
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The push to get students interested in the science, technology, engineering and math subjects, or STEM, is starting earlier and earlier. The goal of a new partnership with Hillsborough County and the University of South Florida is to get teachers with passions for math and science into middle school classrooms.

"Research tells us that students make their decision about their careers typically between grades six and grade eight," said Hillsborough County's STEM Education Director Larry Plank.

He is working with USF to create this pipeline of educators to go directly into Hillsborough middle schools. Those teachers will have a background in the math and science fields.

"What USF is able to do for us is to restructure their teacher preparation program and kind of reimagine it, so that the teachers are coming out of that system are the best prepared to be in our classrooms," said Plank.

Dr. Gladis Kersaint is a Math Education Professor at USF and is in charge of working with USF's Colleges of Education, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering to build this new STEM teacher program from the ground up.

"We also looked at it from a practice standpoint.  What do the schools need, what preparation will our pre-service teachers need, and how do we provide that," said Kersaint.

The new curriculum will help make a direct connection between the math the soon-to-be teachers are learning in college the math the middle school students are expected to learn.

"The students will be taking courses in the College of Education as well as content courses, but we didn't want them to have those two experiences as separate," said Kersaint. She continued, "We wanted them to see connections between and among courses that they're taking."

Because almost all careers now have some aspect of technology, STEM courses have become increasingly important in schools.  That new technology also changes the way teachers teach. They must now focus more on critical thinking and problem-solving because technology can often give students the straight answer.

"If our goal in education is to find X, we're over.  It's more about helping students think through how do I solve this.  What makes sense, and why did the strategy work," said Kersaint.

This new curriculum is combined with a residency program where pre-service teachers apprentice under the science and math teachers already in the Hillsborough middle schools.

"We typically replace about 10 percent of our teaching faculty in math and science in the middle grade levels every year," said Plank.

As more teachers come through this USF pipeline, the more students may decide on science and math careers at that critical middle school age.

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