Rather than lecturing, he prompts students to discuss and defend how they solved the problem, discovering different approaches from one another. He learned this technique while getting his master's in the yearlong practice-heavy Teacher Education Program at Stanford University.
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Though the pace of innovation has picked up, teacher-prep programs vary widely in quality, and far too many still prepare teachers in a bubble, disconnected from the realities of the classroom, says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and author of "Educating School Teachers," a milestone 2006 report.
You want "strong support in a total immersion program," preferably one that partners with K-12 schools and provides teacher-mentors, says Charles Coble, co-director of an Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities initiative to overhaul teacher training. That effort, the Science & Math Teacher Imperative, has sparked a move toward these sorts of best practices at 132 public and flagship universities and 13 university systems, which together produce more than 40 percent of the nation's math and science teachers.
Some of the new master's options aimed at scientists and mathematicians are modeled on the clinical training medical residents get. Kevin Perry was headed for a career in surgery when he decided he'd rather teach middle-school biology in New York City instead. He gets his teaching certification in middle- and high-school science this summer after a year in New York University's Clinically Rich Integrated Science Program (CRISP).
"On the second day of the program, we were put in the classroom," Perry says. After several weeks observing during a summer session last July, he was paired with a biology teacher in September to observe and then begin co-teaching at East Side Community School in Manhattan.
Each week, Perry and fellow teaching residents are led by NYU and K-12 school faculty in instructional "rounds" in which they discuss what works and what doesn't. He also takes courses in science, teaching methods, literacy and language acquisition and data and assessment.
Perry receives $30,000 in scholarships from NYU's Steinhart school and New York State, along with a $20,000 living stipend. Similar residencies are offered by the University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware and Georgia State University, among many others.
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How can current teachers beef up their STEM bona fides and get set for the coming standards? Part-time and online options are springing up to meet their needs.
The University of Maryland, for example, has created a teacher-oriented master's of education in middle-school mathematics.