September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Preservice Teachers are STARs

Posted: Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Far too many science teachers have a handicap: they have never done scientific research.  They know their subjects, but they have never experienced science as a exciting process, or used the scientific method in practice, or worked with scientists.  They are dedicated teachers, but how can they communicate these things to their students?

Four years ago a Lawrence Livermore Laboratory researcher named Laura Gilliam recognized this problem and obtained an NSF grant to do something about it.  Grant in hand, she contacted the California State University system’s chancellor for advice on coordinating the use of it.  The result was STAR, the Science Teacher and Researcher program.

STAR is a summer research internship for aspiring science and mathematics teachers.  Preservice teachers enrolled in CSU credential programs and CSU undergraduates considering STEM teaching are eligible, as are NSF Noyce Scholars.  Recruits are placed as paid interns in cutting-edge California research facilities (which last year included the Lawrence National Laboratories, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the UC Davis Center for Biophotonics.)  Over eight to 10 weeks, they complete a research project, which is presented to their colleagues at a closing conference and may be included in their mentor’s research.  STAR fellows receive a weekly stipend, transportation to opening and closing conferences, and possibly a housing allowance if they relocate.  They are supported by master teachers and research mentors.  Interns at each site are encouraged to spend time together and form a community.

The STAR program is run out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as part of its Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (CESaME).  In 2007, the program’s first year, Gilliam’s NSF grant funded 16 interns.  The next year Cal Poly and the CSU Chancellor’s office obtained funding from the Bechtel Foundation, and for the last three years the program has expanded to 30 interns in 2008, 39 in 2009, and 71 in 2010.  Additional funding comes from the Fluor Corporation and a one-time grant from the NSF Noyce Scholars program that STAR is now seeking to extend.  Based in California, the program now has additional pilot projects in Colorado, Washington, and Maryland.

The STAR program’s effects on its preservice teacher interns are assessed with the Student Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry questionnaire, which examines teacher attitudes toward the nature of science, and the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument, which examines teachers’ degree of confidence in their ability to teach science well.  Both instruments consistently show statistically significant improvements in teacher confidence and comprehension of science.  Meeting activities and other program components are assessed by discussion with the interns at the closing confererence, with the following year’s program revised to incorporate findings.

2010 STAR fellows said the program enhanced both their understanding of science and their ability to teach it.  “I have a science degree, but I don’t know that I’d have called myself a scientist before,” said Jessica Potter, whose degree is in plant ecology.

An added benefit: Credibility.  Jamie Vargas spent the summer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; he has a master of science in physics.  “Because I’ve worked as a scientist, the students ask me questions about getting a science job,” he said.  “And they respect a teacher who’s worked for NASA.”

STAR alumni can return for up to three summers, allowing them to retain ties with mentors and integrate into their science community.  One result can be opportunities for their classes.  After three summers at the NASA Ames Research Center, Ron Hamby, a San Jose middle school science teacher, worked with his STAR mentor to develop a “real-life” science project for his students.  NASA would like to use algae on long space flights to produce oxygen and recycle wastes by photosynthesis.  His eighth-grade classes worked after school to collect data on the effectiveness of different types of algae.  They presented their data to Ames scientists, including Hamby’s mentor, who makes use of it.   They also had a lot of fun.

John Keller, the head of Cal Poly’s CESaME program, would like to see STAR expand to additional states.  He would also like to see programs similar to STAR expand across the country, so that the opportunity need not be limited to CSU students and Noyce scholars.  As he puts it, “Every preservice teacher should have the chance to do research.”

Applications for summer 2011 STAR fellowships are due January 31, 2011.  For more information about STAR, a detailed list of eligibility requirements, and a link to an application, go to: http://www.cesame.calpoly.edu/programs-star.html.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

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Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

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Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

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