Grant will help teachers improve science education

2012-11-06T00:00:00Z Grant will help teachers improve science educationBy MARY PICKETT mpickett@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Do you want to boost the economy, create more jobs, and give Montana students a brighter future?

Think STEM.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education has drawn more attention recently as U.S. students have lagged behind some other advanced countries in scores on science and math exams, said Ken Miller of the Montana State University Billings College of Education.

MSU Billings and Montana Tech of the University of Montana recently received a three-year, $1 million grant to help K-8 teachers in the state improve science education.

The federal grant was issued through the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

Over the next three years, 152 Montana teachers will receive specialized training — online and in face-to-face workshops — in science education.

That training will look not only at what is being taught but also how, Miller said.

Teachers will learn how to cultivate students’ inquisitiveness and encourage them to answer their own questions.

Some traditional ways of teaching stifle children’s natural curiosity because answering questions such as “Why is the sky blue?” or “Where does rain come from?” doesn’t fit into the curriculum.

“We need to think outside the box and not run students through a factory approach to teaching,” Miller said.

One of the grant’s goals is to create a network of K-8 teachers, STEM faculty at MSU Billings and Montana Tech and science-related businesses.

The idea is to nurture interest in science in younger students and show them how they can continue in science though high school, college and into specific science-related jobs.

While many teachers do a good job of teaching science, there is room for improvement.

On international science math and science tests, the U.S. ranks 12th among industrialized countries in science and 17th in math.

Graduating more math and science majors also will spur the economy.

Half of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the past decade require at least some STEM education.

Half of economic growth over the past 50 years has come from technological innovations. One of the best examples of science creating jobs is the spin-off from NASA projects.

Many also consider the possible loss of the U.S. leadership role in technology and innovation a threat to national security.

Jeanie Kalotay is the coordinator for the grant at MSU Billings.

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