By Marsha Sills
September 11, 2012
LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s math education department plans to recruit teachers during the fall for a new program to boost students’ interest in careers in the sciences.
The university received a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a Louisiana Mathematics Masters in the Middle program that provides professional development to teachers in Iberia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes.
Twenty teachers will be selected for the program after a rigorous application process that involves a classroom observation, said Peter Sheppard, an associate professor of math education and the grant’s principal investigator. Sheppard also is the interim head of the College of Education’s department of curriculum and instruction.
Teachers selected will begin graduate courses next year at the university, which will lead to an elementary mathematics specialist certification by the summer of 2014, Sheppard said.
The program also involves the teachers leading an intensive summer enrichment program that will begin in 2014 and continue for the next three years. The program will unlock the “hidden or unmet” potential in struggling students, whose performance will be tracked over the three-year period, Sheppard said.
The program targets middle school because that’s about the time that students start thinking about their career choices, Sheppard said.
“I believe middle school is our great opportunity to maybe convince a student that the STEM area (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is probably a viable career route,” he said. “They’re pretty influential at that age, so if they can get a real exceptional, savvy teacher at that time that could expose them to thinking like scientists and mathematicians, I feel that’s an opportune time to do so.”
The selected teachers will create learning communities within their schools to pass their knowledge to other teachers, and they will also mentor university students majoring in education, he said.
The teachers will receive a $10,000 stipend annually during their four years in the program.
Sheppard said recruitment will begin later this fall and applicants will need to have at least three years teaching experience, a master’s degree and be eligible for admission to the university’s graduate school.
Graduate coursework will continue during the academic year at “teacher-friendly” hours or online, Sheppard said. Once the participating teachers earn their specialist certification, their graduate coursework may be applied to a doctoral degree in educational leadership, he said.
The College of Education plans to use the new program as a “blueprint” for a math education concentration in its educational leadership program, he said.
Sheppard and faculty members Kathleen Lopez, an associate professor of mathematics, and Patricia Beaulieu and Christina Eubanks-Turner, assistant professors of mathematics, submitted the proposal and will teach the graduate-level courses.
Sheppard said the program will also help improve the college’s own teacher prep courses.
“We talk about reform in mathematics education, but too often, high-quality math teachers are not at the forefront of the conversation,” he said. “We wanted to bring to the forefront the best teachers to give us some ideas of how we could improve mathematics education.”