CSU, Chico News

Grant Will Improve Science Teacher Retention

Date: 10-16-2007

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Bev Marcum
Biological Sciences

Bev Marcum, director of the California Science Project Inland Northern Site, California State University, Chico, has been awarded a four-year grant for $439,000 from the California Postsecondary Commission and the California Science Project for work with the Science Teacher Retention Initiative. This initiative is built on work Marcum has been doing with the Science Project and with grants from NASA’s Opportunities for Visionary Academics Program and CSU, Chico’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching for support of interdisciplinary collaboration in the sciences for more than 10 years.

The Science Teacher Retention Initiative aims to support science teachers at every stage of their career. If middle and high school science teachers have the support of a professional learning community, both at their school site and from professionals at the university level, they tend to stay in their positions longer. Schools defined as “high-need” by socio-economic indicators are especially challenged in their ability to keep science teachers, said Marcum.

“This award,” said Marcum, “will allow us to connect all of the various programs in science teacher education that, together, are part of a widespread effort to recruit and retain science teachers. And, in many ways, all of the various programs we have created and the curriculum changes we’ve made, from the Science Project to the Hands-on Lab, where liberal arts students are working directly with elementary school students, have brought us to the point where we can address teacher retention.”

Marcum is excited about the effect of this award on teaching science at the university level. “Increasing the numbers of science teachers and retaining them in the classroom doesn’t start after young teachers are out in a school on their own. For us, it starts with the elementary kids who are coming to our Hands-on Lab and getting interested in the sciences, it continues with teacher education that gives students practice in teaching science in innovative and exciting ways, and it follows teachers into the classroom with ongoing support in teaching approaches and the establishment of professional learning communities.”

The grant will allow professional development for science teachers through the establishment of strong learning communities focused on science and science instruction. It will also provide science content institutes, structured mentoring programs and support for individual career advancement, as well as supporting the development of English as a Second Language and literacy protocols in science education.

Marcum was recently interviewed for the October issue of Discover magazine for an article, “Making the Grade,” on science education in the United States focusing on the impending science teacher shortage. Several nationally known science education innovators were interviewed, and the author of the article saw Marcum as uniquely optimistic. The article described the Science Fridays project that teachers at Citrus Avenue Elementary School in Chico created as a direct result of their experience in the Hands-on Lab and accompanying professional development programs.

The science program innovations at Citrus Elementary are a demonstration of the effect that a science education program such as CSU, Chico’s can make. “The four-year award for the Science Teacher Retention Project,” said Marcum, “will foster that kind of change in the relatively small, often isolated science departments and classrooms of our rural service area.”

The CSU, Chico Research Foundation provides general and fiscal management for the Science Teacher Retention project. The non-profit foundation, incorporated in 1997 as an auxiliary to the University, manages more than 850 projects each year, many staffed by student and faculty researchers.