New UNI program provides content for math and science teachers

Posted on Sunday, April 14th, 2002

Cherin Lee, UNI assistant professor of biology and science education, (319) 273-2499
Catherine Miller, UNI assistant professor of mathematics, (319) 273-2935
Vicki Grimes, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-2761

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- It's a fact in schools nationwide: sometimes a biology teacher has to teach chemistry. And sometimes a chemistry teacher may have to teach biology. But where do they get the necessary knowledge?

Providing teachers with that content is the goal of the University of Northern Iowa's Science and Math Education Renewal Center (SMERC).

'If teachers are proficient in their content area, schools will be more likely to meet the achievement goals set down in their standards and benchmarks,' said Cherin Lee, UNI assistant professor of biology and science education, who co-directs the project with Catherine Miller, UNI assistant professor of mathematics.

Begun in the summer of 2001 with $500,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Education, SMERC's mission is to provide professional development for K-12 math and science teachers.

Unlike many professional development programs for teachers, which focus on teaching methods, SMERC zeroes in on content. 'Finding content courses in the summer is difficult,' explained Lee, who also chairs the interdisciplinary Science Education Faculty at UNI. 'Many of the workshops offered for teachers during the summer focus on teaching methods.'

During the next two summers a Summer Physics Institute will be offered through SMERC for physics teachers who do not have a physics major or minor and are seeking a physics endorsement. The teachers will earn 12 hours of credit in physics over two summers.

Besides the Summer Physics Institute, SMERC is offering two elementary-school science workshops at UNI this summer, one in life science and one in physical science. These workshops will boost the content knowledge and comfort level of elementary teachers teaching science, according to Lee.

Although SMERC's main emphasis is on providing content for K-12 math and science teachers, the program also works to improve preparation for teachers in training. For example, this summer a Cooperative Teacher Collaborative will bring to campus secondary math and science teachers, who will help UNI faculty rework field experiences and methods courses in math and science.

Also, undergraduate teaching majors will meet once a week during the summer with a cohort of teachers enrolled in the master's program in Math for Middle Grades 4-8 so that the two groups can learn from each other.