New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy visited Montclair State University on August 22 to congratulate and inspire 30 elementary school teachers engaged in the New Jersey STEM Innovation Fellowship, a new program designed to improve math education for public school students across New Jersey. Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin were also on hand to usher in its first cohort.
“This fellowship is about creating the New Jersey where opportunities and innovation blossom for all of our residents,” Murphy told the teachers. “It’s about creating an educational culture that will continue to draw educators who want to work in an innovative and supportive atmosphere. It’s about creating a workforce that will be a draw for innovative companies. It’s about creating a state that will draw folks from around the world to live and work and where our young people will want to stay to build their careers and their families. This is what you are all a part of. We cannot build this future without you.”
“Why do I love mathematics? Because it is a language,” said Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole. “It is a way of thinking about the world. It is a way of articulating the world, and if young students can understand it as that kind of language, as a way in which they think about things differently, and are able to approach problems differently, they will love it in the same way they love the written and spoken language that they use every day. We just have to make sure that everyone has access to this language.”
Montclair State University is the lead institution for the newly created initiative, working with partners Princeton University, Rowan University and nationally recognized STEM education nonprofit Math for America (MƒA).
The fellowship program is giving New Jersey public school teachers the opportunity to improve STEM teaching and student learning throughout the state with stipends, workshops and professional support.
Thirty teachers representing 20 districts and 29 schools across the state – from Paramus to Carneys Point – were on hand for their first day of training as the pilot cohort for the program. The two-day institute will be followed by monthly workshops hosted by the participating university in each teacher’s region.
The teaching fellows were selected from more than 150 applicants. Fifty percent work in schools where more than 60% of students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch (FRL); 77% work in schools where more than 25% of students qualify for FRL; and 26% identify as teachers of color.
“We’ve been able to recruit a truly superior group of teachers who want to be even better and share that with their peers in math,” said Jacalyn Giacalone Willis, director of Montclair State University’s Professional Resources in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) who will help oversee the fellowship.
Standing before two large easels, renowned mathematics educator Dr. Cathy Fosnot dove right into training on number strings – a set of related math problems “crafted to support students to construct big ideas about mathematics and build their own strategies.”
Catalina Villasuso of Edward T. Browser School in East Orange was impressed by Fosnot’s approach. “This is an opportunity to give our children a really good number sense. I think that’s key. In the past children were taught to memorize, but number strings give them a good foundation for breaking numbers apart and thinking about how things are related.”
“STEM is the future,” said Nicole Stephens, who teaches in Trenton. “We need to change the thinking about math, science, tech and research. We need to really push students into thinking that these skills can go across any of the STEM areas.”
MƒA developed the New Jersey STEM Innovation Fellowship program with feedback and support from several stakeholders in New Jersey, including the Murphy Administration, the New Jersey Department of Education and JerseyCAN.
“At MƒA, our goal is to change the way we think about teaching by trusting teachers to foster innovation in their classrooms,” said Michael Driskill, COO of MƒA. Driskill extolled Gov. Murphy’s “strong commitment to supporting teachers and preparing students with the skills that they need to thrive in STEM subjects which are so central to our economy and our democracy in the 21st Century.”
The fellowship program is funded with support from the Overdeck Family Foundation, PSEG Foundation, Celgene Corporation, BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), the Maher Charitable Foundation and the ADP Foundation.
“Math is everywhere and it’s very clear that you can do anything with STEM,” said Jamar Tyndale, Manager, Corporate Responsibility at The PSEG Foundation.
Tyndale, who is himself a chemical engineer, noted that STEM education is a focus of The PSEG Foundation. “The Foundation supports and invests in education and workforce development, the environment and efforts to build thriving and sustainable communities, and we understand the value of the opportunity, empowerment and progress that STEM education can provide. This program is a prime example of how to prepare a diverse group of students and teachers for an innovation-based future.”
Laura Overdeck shared why the Overdeck Family Foundation is supporting the program.
“One reason, as is obvious: math is a beautiful subject, and unfortunately kids are not seeing that. This program gives teachers the tools to bring math to life for students while increasing mastery and achievement.”
“Second, teachers have a tough job. Teacher turnover, particularly in schools facing challenges, is high. This program in New York City has reignited the fellows’ love of what they teach, and in turn they have spread that inspiration to their peers.”
“Suffice it to say without this great partnership – public, private and nonprofit sectors working together – we wouldn’t be here,” said Gov. Murphy. “And we’re here at a critical time for our state. We’re at a crossroads in education where the classic ‘three Rs’ are being joined by four other letters: STEM. Bringing forward new ideas in math that can resonate with more students, allowing them to grasp complex ideas in simple ways and helping them love learning from an early age, are all critical not just for their success in school but long beyond.”