Teachers speak out about STEM.

Author:Miller, Cynthia D.

The quest to attract students to study science, technology, mathematics and engineering disciplines in college is getting a lot of publicity and focus from the government, education systems and businesses. However, when it's just the teacher standing in front of a group of students, how then does the grand scheme of things play out?

Three STEM teachers in different education systems answered that question. One is a professor at a private college, one a teacher at a suburban middle school, and the last a special education teacher at an inner city school. Though their settings are markedly different, their desires, passions and challenges are strikingly similar.

"It's just when you're about to give up, that's when it works," says Jennifer Staiger, assistant professor of chemistry and director of the honors program at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md. A childhood neighbor's death from lung cancer inspired Staiger to become a research scientist with the goal of studying and identifying various forms of cancer. The need for a different work schedule after she began her family and the close proximity of the campus to her home led Staiger to teaching.

"The main challenge in teaching science and chemistry to students is the complexity of these subjects, especially if the students did not take advanced courses in middle and high school," she says." A' students are always 'A' students, they simply motivate themselves. It's the average students that need to be coached and inspired through mentoring programs and employer apprenticeships," she says. And if teachers aren't trained to teach advanced subjects, the students suffer when they get to college."

Charles Smith is the science department chairman and a teacher at West Frederick Middle School in Frederick, Md., and co-recipient along with Staiger and two other Ph.D.s of the 2010 "Reach for the Stars" Awards presented to outstanding STEM leaders by the Frederick Chapter of Women in Defense.

Smith is proud of the state-of-the-art technology used in his department, including Promethean boards, handheld interactive database devices and a weekly Wiki page that allows parents to follow their child's studies and homework assignments. Even so, Smith says his biggest challenge in the classroom is competing with students who use their smart phones and iPods during class. His...

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