WVU ‘gets the facts out’ to help reverse high school math and science teacher shortage in West Virginia, nationwide

Jennifer Reaves, a CE-STEM collaborator and computer science teacher at Mylan Park Elementary School, leads a computer science fundamentals workshop in July 2018 (WVU Photo)

Highly prepared math and science teachers are the catalysts behind the scientific advancements that change our world every day, and yet, there’s not enough of them in our classrooms to instruct the next generation of experts in STEM fields.

West Virginia University is making a calculated effort to change that. Selected by the GFO leadership team, comprised of experts from STEM societies nationwide, WVU is one of six research study sites across the country to pursue a new project, Get the Facts Out. The goal is simple: to help reverse the severe shortage of high school chemistry, math and physics teachers. 

While nearly half of mathematics and science majors report some level of interest in K-12 teaching, very few enroll in teacher certification programs. GFO provides faculty with research-based and user-tested strategies and materials designed to help entice STEM college students to consider pursuing a teaching profession by challenging negative perceptions and offering accurate and positive information about teaching. 

“The more West Virginia high school students can access high quality math and science instruction, the more pathways will open up for these students to secure jobs in high paying, fast growing STEM professions,” said Gay Stewart, director of the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education.

As an advisor to GFO and a national change agent supporting new GFO users, Stewart added, “I had the honor of serving on the team that created the initial materials and got funding for their production and testing. It’s very exciting to see the flying WV branding on such an important, national initiative!” 

Throughout the process, WVU will provide essential data to track GFO’s success by implementing, testing and providing feedback on materials. Research study sites will offer workshops, administer surveys to students and faculty, help identify students and faculty for interviews and provide enrollment numbers in their certification programs to the project leaders. 

With 38 percent of West Virginia grades 7-11 mathematics classrooms led by an individual who is not certified to teacher in these classes, WVU has long since recognized West Virginia’s need to remedy the teacher shortage and fulfill high quality K-12 math and science instruction. The GFO project is the latest in a line of WVU efforts focused on addressing teacher recruitment and retention across the state, including the recent NSF-funded project, Mountaineer Mathematics Master Teachers. The six-year, $3 million grant – supported by additional funding from the West Virginia Department of Education – will help improve leadership skills among experienced secondary teachers through fellowship opportunities and professional development programming. The ultimate goal is to improve teacher retention while also increasing student success in mathematics. 

The University also holds key state and national partnerships to complement projects like GFO and M3T that focus on teacher recruitment and preparation, from collaborating with the West Virginia Department of Education, the Education Alliance and the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, to national initiatives like 100kin10.

“Remedying the state’s teacher shortage will require innovative and multifaceted approaches,” said Matthew Campbell, assistant professor of secondary mathematics education in WVU’s College of Education and Human Services and principal investigator on the M3T project. “Through multiple efforts that address how we bring individuals into the STEM teaching profession, and successfully support them throughout their teaching career, WVU continues to position itself as a core partner in solving this problem across West Virginia while also contributing to the collective understanding of solutions nationwide.”

The GFO project, supported by the National Science Foundation, is jointly led by the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators and Colorado School of Mines. The research study sites include West Virginia University, Brigham Young University, California State University, Long Beach, Chicago State University, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

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