July 14, 2009

Innovative Hamline program improves science education for students across Minnesota

In 2007, the State of Minnesota granted $2.3 million to the School of Education’s Center for Global Environmental Education. That represented the largest grant ever received by Hamline University and over half of all the yearly grant money given by the State of Minnesota for professional development in science.

With it, the School of Education created the Minnesota Science Teacher Education Program (MnSTEP) to improve the quality of continuing education for K-12 science teachers across the state.

And, in the past two years, it has done just that with nearly 1,000 elementary and middle school science teachers from Minnesota participating in MnSTEP courses.

“We took the Minnesota academic standards for K-12 and divided them based on disciplines,” Lee Schmitt, director of the program, said. “We took chemistry, physics, earth science, biology, and environmental studies and put on an elementary institute and a secondary institute for each.”

The topics rotate across the state every year so the institute is brought to the teacher instead of the teacher needing to travel to the institute.

Sue Van Kekerix an elementary school teacher from Two Harbors, MN said, “The ability to learn in our own communities and not having to travel to a campus in another part of the state is important for teachers in more isolated areas, where a commute to class is impractical.”

The additional licensure program is another facet of the program. According to Schmitt, it has become increasingly more important, as the biggest educational demand in this country is for high school physics and high school chemistry teachers.

“There just aren't enough of them,” Schmitt said. “For many teachers who currently teach biology or earth science, they would have to back to school to get that particular license. But, typically teachers don't have the time, and they don't have the money to do that. Now, they can join our Physics Accreditation for Science Educators or our Chemistry Coursework for Additional Licensure program to get the classes they need to meet the accreditation standards for those two subject areas.”

Bonnie Stevenson-Tapper, who is the only science teacher at the Adolescent Girls and Parenting Education High School in Saint Paul, said that MnSTEP has been incredibly useful. To keep her job with the new state science standards, Stevenson-Tapper needed to become qualified to teach either chemistry or physics, which she believes would have very difficult without the additional licensure program offered through MnSTEP.

“MnSTEP is great for me because I am teaching three totally different subjects. This program is really a saving grace, especially for Alternative Learning Center teachers, because we don't really have the time or money to spend on professional development. This was beautiful, because Hamline really have it laid out for us and made it convenient to complete the qualifications.”

According to Schmitt, between the continuing education courses offered to teachers across the state and the additional licensure program through the MnSTEP program, more than 25,000 students have been impacted by the improved science knowledge and overall confidence of their teachers.