Leveraging technology to focus on learning

Mobile technologies are an integral part of our daily lives. Where is the closest gas station? Ask Siri. Which toaster is best for my needs? Check customer reviews on Going out to dinner with friends? Ask Yelp for a good restaurant within five miles of your house, make reservations on OpenTable, and forward the reservation to your friends, complete with driving directions. Mobile technologies have made our lives easier and are transforming the way we work and get things done. It isn’t about the device, but what the devices allow us to do. How can we translate this savvy use of technology into classroom learning experiences?

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An AWSM way to increase middle schoolers’ math success

How does student work inform instruction? I read Katrina Schwartz’s MindShift blog post, “How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track,” and immediately found connections to McREL’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) study of a formative assessment model for middle school math, now completing its third year. Not only does Ms. Schwartz highlight the use of student work as a method for improving student learning and teacher practice—a cornerstone of our study—but she also relates this to mathematics.

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What’s STEM got to do with it?

Meaningful careers. Financial stability. Happiness. That’s what we all want for the future of our students, right? This might feel like an abstract, far-off concept when working with elementary school students. However, the foundation built during these formative years is exactly what supports achieving those goals. How do we cultivate the curiosity, tenacity, and student empowerment to help our students realize that future? Think: Science… Technology… Engineering… Math.

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When the light bulb goes on: Transforming education with small science

There’s something special about being there when “the light bulb goes on,” when students who have been wrestling with a concept finally get it, seeing the world in a different way that allows them to understand it more fully. This is one of the primary reasons I was excited to join McREL’s science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) team, which brings emerging STEM content, specifically nanoscience and technology (NS&T), to classrooms in a way that helps students truly grasp it.

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Finding and supporting the E in STEM

On the NASA Wavelength blog, McREL STEM consultant Sandra Weeks takes a look at how scientists and engineers work together to accomplish NASA satellite mission objectives, and applies that model to implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with a focus on the role of engineering. Read her blog post, Finding and supporting the E in STEM, here.


2011_Weeks_WEBSandra Weeks is a STEM consultant for McREL. As a former high school science teacher, her expertise in STEM education and NGSS lends to the design of K-12 instructional materials and professional development on a variety of STEM topics, including NGSS and Science Notebooks, for out-of-school-time programs such as Cosmic Chemistry, NanoExperiences, NASA’s Dawn Mission, and the NASA Science Mission Directorate Education and Public Outreach forums. You can also follow McREL’s STEM pages on Facebook and Twitter for more information about our STEM initiatives.

Filling the STEM teacher pipeline

A significant number of schools and districts each year report serious problems filling their math and science teaching openings. Why is this? What can we do to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of STEM teacher candidates?

In a 2010 study, researchers Richard M. Ingersoll and David Perda found that, in fact, annual attrition rates are about the same for math and science teachers as they are for teachers in other subject areas. But unlike other content areas, math and science do not have a surplus of new teachers relative to losses. In other words, for math and science teachers, there is a much tighter balance between new supply and total attrition.

Teacher with studentsAt the same time, there is a need to increase the diversity of the teaching force that has the skills to work with the growing minority student population. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that, as of 2011, 48 percent of U.S. public school students are from an ethnic minority, while only 18 percent of teachers are.

To improve the quantity, quality, and diversity within the STEM teacher recruitment pool, let’s consider the four primary sources of new hires in math and science teaching:

  • The ‘‘pipeline’’ of university students who have recently completed a teacher certification program in a school of education and obtained an education/specialization degree and teaching certificate
  • “Career changers”—those entering teaching with non-education STEM degrees and those entering through alternative, midcareer, and nontraditional routes
  • The ‘‘reserve pool’’ of those who completed teacher preparation in prior years but delayed teaching, as well as former teachers who left teaching to later return
  • “Transfers” from other schools—teachers who move from one school to another

In general, for all four groups, recruiting teachers has typically been done through the use of signing and performance incentives, stipends to teachers for certification through alternative routes, stipends or bonuses on top of the regular pay schedule, and scholarships for teachers to pursue advanced course work.

While many recruitment strategies work for a broad range of candidates, some strategies should be differentiated according to the source. For example:

Traditional pipeline candidates

  • Begin recruiting before prospective teachers graduate or do their clinical internships
  • Build strong partnerships with college- or university-based teacher preparation programs
  • Provide prospective teachers with adequate information about districts, schools, and communities to ensure they recognize teaching opportunities and gather adequate information to make well-informed and appropriate job decisions
  • Provide high-quality induction and professional development experiences to ensure successful recruitment and retention outcomes
  • Require evidence of rigorous and substantial content and pedagogical preparation
  • Attend graduate career fairs
  • Stress the opportunity to become culturally aware of different societies

Career/major changers

  • Advertise to government employment assistance agencies
  • Target information to areas with local STEM business closings
  • Advertise to job placement companies and university job placement services
  • Use social networking
  • Disseminate information to the Department of Conservation, Forestry, etc.
  • Collaborate with Troops to Teachers
  • Attend professional, graduate, and military career fairs
  • Reach out to department heads and student groups in STEM majors
  • Develop multiple entry points into teaching for nontraditional math and science teacher candidates

Reserve candidates

  • Provide a convincing and altruistic case for joining the educator workforce
  • Require evidence of strong content background knowledge and expertise
  • Disseminate information to College of Education alumni lists
  • Provide enhanced teacher induction for returning educators to catch them up on the latest priorities and trends


  • Describe positive school culture factors that attract math and science teachers such as student discipline policies, student motivation, and shared teacher leadership
  • Use signing and performance incentives
  • Offer scholarships for teachers to pursue advanced course work
  • Streamline the application process for highly qualified transfer candidates

For all four groups, it’s important to proactively engage recruits by visiting them where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to you. This can be done face-to-face at career fairs and conferences, or virtually through social networking and website/webinar outreach. Proactive recruitment strategies are especially important for recruiting minority candidates. Employers must seek out quality higher education institutions with high proportions of minority candidates and rigorously recruit from them.

Retention and recruitment of math and science teachers go hand-in-hand. If you establish working conditions that math and science teachers desire, and publicize those conditions, your recruitment improves. Furthermore, improving job conditions such as increasing support and resources from the school administration, increasing salaries, reducing student discipline problems, and enhancing faculty input into school decision making, would all contribute to lower rates of turnover and, in turn, reduce recruitment needs.

Do you have other STEM recruiting strategies that have been especially effective?


2012_Kuhn_WEBDr. Matt Kuhn works with districts and schools to improve STEM instruction. He conducts professional development in instructional technology integration, technology leadership, and curricular design and pedagogy in mathematics and science. He is a Google Certified Teacher and a co-author of the first and second editions of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works. Prior to joining McREL, Matt was a secondary science/math teacher and principal.

What about science?

Science blogSo often we hear parents talk about their children digging in the dirt, chasing butterflies during baseball games, and climbing trees. Or that their children are experimenting in the kitchen by mixing salt, water, and corn syrup…just to see what happens. Children are natural scientists, enthusiastic and motivated to discover more about the world around them.

Research suggests that the majority of adult scientists developed their interest in the field prior to middle school (Maltese & Tai, 2010) suggesting that early exposure to science at the middle and younger grades is important to attract students into science and engineering (Tai, Liu, Maltese, & Fan, 2007). Yet many children do not receive adequate science instruction in the early grades. At a time when educators could turn children’s curiosity into a lifelong passion for science, instruction is often narrowly focused on mathematics and reading.

In 2009, only one-third of U.S. fourth graders scored proficient or above in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Inadequate exposure to science content among students, low levels of student motivation toward science, and poor teacher preparation and self-efficacy in science may lead to this marginal science achievement. Students who do not learn science during the elementary years are likely to have poor science understanding through adulthood.

While we recognize the need for scientifically literate citizens, the time and demand for good elementary science teaching often does not get the same attention as mathematics and literacy. We might not realize that both mathematics and literacy are integral to learning science and can therefore be naturally woven into a science lesson. For example, a student who digs in the dirt might be asked to examine how many different species of life can be found in a 2 meter square area. With that science content, the student can create a graph, write about the results, or read about the insects found.

Why don’t we capitalize on this opportunity to provide exciting and meaningful science experiences for our young children?  What challenges or barriers do you face in teaching science?

Written by McREL lead consultant, Cynthia Long, and senior director, Sheila Arens.



Maltese, A. V. Tai, R. H. (2010). Eyeballs in the fridge: Sources of early interest in science. International Journal of Science Education, 32(5) 669-685.

Tai, R. T., Liu, C. Q., Maltese, A. V., Fan, X. T. (2006, May 26). Planning early for careers in science. Science, 312 (5777), 1143-1144. (NOTE: I think Cyndi inadvertently indicated this was 2007 in the blog; it should be 2006).

Trend Spotting: The Evolving Role of Museums in Education

On the Horizon, an international journal that explores emerging issues as technology changes the nature of education and learning, has released a concept paper titled, Museums and the Future of Education. Co-authored by Scott Kratz, vice president for education at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, the paper explores the vibrant role that museums could play should education experience a profound shift from traditional teacher- and school-centered models to more informal, personalized, “passion-based” models.

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Summer program rockets students into NASA science

Developed by McREL through a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (Grant R305A090344), Cosmic Chemistry uses real-world science from NASA’s Genesis mission to engage 9th and 10th graders in science and prepare them for high school chemistry.

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