New UH Stem Center for Professional Learning Takes Aim at State, National Crisis

New UH Stem Center for Professional Learning Takes Aim at State, National Crisis
Physics Professor Rebecca Forrest Co-Principal Investigator of $400,000 Collaborative Grant

Courtney Timmons
Courtney Timmons, a physics teacher at Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD, works on an experiment exploring Newton's laws of motion during the summer institute led by UH’s Department of Physics.
That U.S. students are falling behind their international counterparts in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is not new. A University of Houston center that takes aim at improving STEM teacher content knowledge and teaching strategies is.

The UH Center for STEM Teacher Professional Learning provides faculty-led professional development to STEM teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. The center is a collaboration of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Cullen College of Engineering, and the College of Education.

Supporting STEM Educators

UH was one of three universities selected by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to establish such a center with a two-year, $400,000 grant.

“The center will coordinate and conduct research in best practices in STEM education and provide tools and support to STEM educator preparation programs,” said education professor and center director Wallace Dominey. “The UH center leverages the expertise of UH faculty in the College of Education, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Cullen College of Engineering.”

Dominey along with physics Professor Rebecca Forrest and engineering Professor Fritz Claydon will serve as the principal investigators on the two-year grant.

“This program grew out of the two-year grant that Physics professor Margaret Cheung and Wallace Dominey received from the Texas Teacher Quality Grant Program to improve training of high school physics teachers,” Forrest said. “That success led to this Center, which is allowing for collaboration on best teaching practices in K-12 STEM education, as well as at the university level.”

High School Physics Teachers First to Participate in Training

The center will provide 120 hours of teacher professional development each year. A group of Houston area high school physics teachers began their studies this summer with an institute led by UH physics faculty. Included were opportunities for participants to explore UH research labs, coupled with follow-up sessions to be held throughout the academic year.

“Most high school physics teachers did not major or minor in physics,” Dominey said. “Center training is an opportunity for teachers to improve their physics content knowledge, while also improving their instructional strategies.”

In addition to providing teacher trainings, the center will assist in making UH STEM undergraduate courses more discovery based. Center faculty will also conduct research on “best practices” in STEM education with particular emphasis on diverse learners, such as students with limited English proficiency.

“The key to our nation's response to the crisis in STEM education is to meet the needs of diverse students as the U.S. population becomes more and more diverse. As the most ethnically diverse research university in the U.S., UH is ideally suited to take up this challenge,” Dominey said.

- Marisa Ramirez, University Communication, with additional information provided by College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics