When Kurt Michael, Ph.D., joined Liberty University as an associate professor in the School of Education, one of his assignments was to help promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to education majors. With his background in technology education, it was a natural fit. But, he found it a tough sell to the mostly female elementary education majors at Liberty University: “The majority of pre-service elementary school teachers pursuing licensure at Liberty University are female. These young women are choosing English as their cognate rather than math or science,” he said.
Fortunately, his dean encouraged him to attend the VISTA Science Education Faculty Academy (SEFA), a week-long spring program that allows science education faculty from across Virginia to connect and problem-solve together.
Michael said, “It was a tremendous experience that allowed me to meet other science faculty at the collegiate level from across Virginia.” And as a result of his interaction with other science educators, he quickly found out that other universities were having the same problem convincing female elementary education majors to pursue the sciences.
“We have a problem—why are young women not going into math and science?” he asked. “Introducing science to students at an early age is extremely important and if we are not teaching students to love science at the lower grades, then it may be too late by time they get to high school.”
Conversations and questions like Michael’s are common at the SEFA Academy. Michael and his fellow attendees engaged in a week-long series of activities that facilitated learning and discussion on this and other topics related to the challenges and future of science education. As a result, the experience inspired Michael to broaden his research agenda and explore questions related to pre-service elementary school teachers' attitudes toward science. He is now actively researching and publishing on the topic.
In addition, his week at the SEFA academy inspired Michael to spend more time mentoring student teachers and showing them how to incorporate additional hands-on learning opportunities into their classrooms. “Students want hands-on learning; they don’t want to be lectured at. I believe a noisy classroom filled with a lot of excitement translates into good science teaching. VISTA helped me really embrace this approach. In fact, some of my student teachers’ cooperating teachers are also picking up on the approach and seeing the value of hands-on learning.”
Michael is now proud to exclaim that, “the SEFA academy has renewed enthusiasm regarding science education and was well worth my time.”