Bringing Science Back

Courtesy Of CalTeach

Courtesy Of CalTeach

The Cal Teach program was launched in 2006 as a UC-wide partnership with a goal of training and putting 1,000 new math and science teachers annually into California classrooms. Each UC campus has its own variation of the program, though they each share a common goal.

UCI’s Cal Teach program is no less unique than the others — perhaps even more so. Dr. Sue Marshall, Director of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Education and co-director of UCI Cal Teach, breaks down the formation of the program into two phases.

When the UC Office of the President launched Cal Teach systemwide in 2006, administrators at UCI saw an opportunity to build on a foundation that was already set.

“We expanded on a course that already existed that essentially was an introduction to math and science teaching,” Marshall said.

Phase two began in fall 2007, as UCI was one of 13 universities nationwide to be awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative in Texas to go toward the creation of a four-year undergraduate math and science teacher preparation program — one that is hard to find in California.

“There aren’t that many fully undergraduate programs for becoming a math and science teacher,” Marshall said. “Most programs are the more traditional models, where you get your bachelor’s degree first, and then you get your teaching credential afterwards.”

With the seed money, Cal Teach and the School of Education would work from 2008-2012 with the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Physical Sciences to launch what is now a completely undergraduate teaching credential program.

“We had to come up with new ways for students to do their majors so they could combine the coursework in their major with the [teaching] credential coursework,” Marshall said.

The 13 schools that received grants in 2007 were asked to base their curricula on that of the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Austin. This curricula for math and science teaching based itself on an “inquiry-based approach” as a way to effectively engage and teach students.

Cal Teach graduated eight students in its first class of the undergraduate teaching credential program this past spring. In a few years, Dr. Marshall expects that year to be at least 80, and combined with the graduates from UCI’s post-baccalaureate teaching program, the number could reach over 100.

“By 2018, we hope to say that with the combination of our undergraduate Cal Teach and post-baccalaureate teaching credential programs, we will have exceeded our goal,” she said. “We feel really positive about the fact that the teachers we are training are going out and getting jobs are well trained.

“They are students who have exceptional degrees in their math and science disciplines, so we know they have strong knowledge, and we know they came out of a really strong teacher preparation program.”

Cal Teach can also look forward to the success of a new major in biology/education. Over 700 high school students applied to UCI under that major; of those who were accepted and chose to attend, 40 freshmen stuck with the major and are on track to go through the four-year undergraduate credential program.

“These students are at an advantage because they already know that this is something they are interested in doing,” Marshall said. “They can have a smooth path to get coursework done and gives them time to decide if it isn’t the thing for them.”

Students who decide to join the Cal Teach program later on in their undergraduate years and do not have the option of completing the undergraduate credential program have a different opportunity. The “4+1” option prepares students for earning a teaching credential through a post-baccalaureate program. Courses include the Intro to Teaching Courses, including “Intro to Science and Mathematics Teaching” at the K-12, middle and high school levels, and the various education classes offered through the school of education.

Whitney Young, the Student Services Coordinator for Cal Teach and UCI alumna, emphasized the strength and unique aspect of the Cal Teach program as well as its many opportunities for all students. When students come in to see her, Young says the most important aspect of her job is to make sure they know all their options and, once they decide, have a clear path to follow in their years at UCI.

“I really care that students are getting their needs met,” she said. “I don’t want it to feel like they are going to miss out on an opportunity because we haven’t told them or they just didn’t know, or that they’re floating around not knowing what to do to prepare themselves for a teaching career or just to participate in Cal Teach.”

No matter how much of an interest one has in teaching, Young encourages students to take one of the introductory courses to “just get a feel for how far along they are in their teacher exploration.”

“Even if you decide you don’t want to teach science or math, at least you’ve taken that course and you have experience,” she said.

The curriculum for Cal Teach, Young said, is different than the standard teaching program. The curriculum and content is specifically designed for students who want to pursue that career option — whether it be in math, biology, chemistry, physics, earth system sciences and environmental studies — in order to keep students engaged and involved in their own learning.

“We have teachers who are well equipped to deal with students who might not be easy learners or ready to learn about math and science,” Young said. “I think that’s what makes us unique and special. Our curriculum is for people who want to teach math and science, and it’s for creating highly-qualified teachers.”