STEM achievement for all learners

For the last few years, policymakers, educational leaders and corporate executives have warned that the United States is facing a STEM crisis. The fear is that with too few science, technology, engineering and math workers, the country is in danger of losing its competitive edge.

Photo of young STEM students.Secondary and Special Education Professor Jennifer Goeke, Montclair State’s Master of Art‌s in Teaching (MAT) program coordinator, has received $1.4 million in funding from the United States Department of Education to address that challenge.

Goeke is currently in the fourth year of her five-year project, “Restructuring Preservice Preparation for Innovative Special Education.” The project focuses on redesigning a strand of Montclair State’s Dual Certification MAT program to prepare middle and secondary school math and science teachers to teach in inclusive classrooms – to increase STEM achievement for all students, including those with disabilities.

“The idea is that if more math and science teachers are prepared to teach students with disabilities effectively, these students can be successful in STEM fields – instead of persisting in the mistaken belief that STEM subjects are ‘too demanding’ for them,” explains Goeke. “The United States needs more qualified STEM personnel. Students with disabilities may be well suited for STEM careers because of their day-to-day experiences of being resilient problem solvers. Many of them have talents in engineering, design, visual-spatial skills or even teamwork that are untapped in traditional math and science classrooms.”

Because of Goeke’s efforts, the new strand of the Dual Certification MAT program prepares teachers who will be dual certified in math
or science and as Teachers of Students with Disabilities. The funding supports in-service teacher development, including special training for teachers in Bloomfield Middle School, the program’s partner school, who will mentor dual certification teacher candidates. “To date, we have done almost three full years of ongoing professional development with the mentor teachers including a weeklong Summer Institute every
June,” notes Goeke.

Teacher candidates benefit from their relationships with mentor teachers. Before beginning their student teaching, Montclair State’s teacher candidates must complete a full semester of fieldwork in their mentor teachers’ classrooms. Each candidate has two mentor teachers – a general education math or scienceteacher and their special education teacher. Together, they work to accelerate the skills of students who are not achieving at grade level.

So far, the program is a success with eight graduated teacher candidates. “By the end of the grant-funded project, we hope to graduate at least 20 candidates,” Goeke says.