A new teacher training program designed to help girls and minorities succeed in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is focusing on how small actions in the classroom can affect a student's achievement.
The Educators' Equity STEM Academy began Monday for professors at the Community College of Baltimore County, and it eventually will be available to high school teachers and community college teachers elsewhere in the state.
"We're really focusing on the little messages, the implicit messages that add up over time," said Tara Ebersole, a biology professor and STEM liaison for the community college.
For example, some teachers might call on boys more often than girls or have lower expectations for minority students.
An $886,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the three-year program. The state education department, the county's community college and the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Education Foundation are teaming up for the project.
The training "gets at the issue of the subtle messages that we send" to students, said Katharine Oliver, assistant state superintendent for career and college readiness.
"The need for our workforce in STEM is huge," Oliver said. "It's a high-skill, high-wage career area. We want to ensure that every student has an opportunity to be successful."
Many researchers have examined why students drop out of math and science programs, said Claudia Morrell, chief operating officer for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Education Foundation.
"It all comes down to the perception of inclusion, or the belief that you are capable of being successful," she said.
The training program for teachers is based on research from professors at institutions including the Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin, she said.
The first year of the program will focus on the county's community college faculty, Morrell said. The 15 faculty members are set to finish in-depth training this week, and will also receive continued coaching throughout the school year.
In August, 25 high school teachers in Baltimore County and 25 community college professors will receive training, she said. The next year, the program will open up to educators in other areas in Maryland.
A program that used similar strategies for physics teachers in Dallas helped boost girls' performance on the Advanced Placement physics test, Oliver said.
There, girls' pass rates on the exam rose from 12 percent to 41 percent. Boys' pass rates increased from 45 percent to 59 percent.
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