California State University officials announced on Monday they’d won a $10 million grant from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to train current and future teachers on new math and science standards.

$10 million grant boosts California teacher training in math, science

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

 July 11, 05:56 PM
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California State University officials announced on Monday they’d won a $10 million grant from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to train current and future teachers on new math and science standards.

The funds will go to schools of education at the CSU campuses in Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Chico, Dominguez Hills, Fresno State, Fullerton, Long Beach, Monterey Bay, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and Stanislaus in sums ranging from $600,000 to $1.2 million. Area public schools will benefit through partnerships with the campus schools of education.

“For California and the nation to continue leading in the world’s key economic sectors, we must continue to ensure our teachers are equipped with the latest teaching strategies that support high standards, innovation and creativity,” CSU Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Loren Blanchard said in a written statement.

California, along with most other states in the nation, is undergoing a complete overhaul of how it teaches core subjects. as part of the two-year shift to Common Core standards. 

Math, for example, has gone from a subject in which students needed only to memorize math operations to one in which students need to master collaborating with fellow students to get the right answer as well as orally critiquing and analyzing how other students solved a problem. 

In science the shift is just as dramatic but still a year away from full implementation.

Teachers are moving away from teaching science as standalone subjects such as biology and physics and instead focusing lessons that trace a concept through those disciplines. Students, for example, will learn about energy as it relates to the sun and the functioning of a cell.

“The biggest difference is that it’s not about the teacher showing kids how to do something so much as setting up opportunities for them to be guided by inquiry in making sense, making connections, figuring out for themselves, not by themselves, but for themselves with the guidance of a teacher,” said Cal State Fullerton education researcher Mark Ellis.

In addition to knowing the subject matter, Ellis said, teachers more than before have to know how to pose questions to generate student curiosity.

The grant-makers hope to make a difference in how effectively California teachers master the new methods. The 23-campus CSU system graduates the most new teachers in the state, so the grant stands to make an impact on the state’s teaching corps.

University officials hope the grant will allow them to help train at least half of the teacher candidates in the 11 target campuses by the grant’s third year.

Cal State Fullerton officials said they will use the grant to place about 90 teachers-in-training at schools in Anaheim and Fullerton. They’ll be working with experienced teachers at the school.

“In the past teacher preparation was a university responsibility,” Ellis said but this grant underlines how schools of education are working with school districts to place future teachers in classrooms to learn from master teachers.

“We’ve talked with our district partners about this idea that we’re in this together for a long period of time,” Ellis said.

Science teachers learn their craft by mastering their subject and that makes the new standards particularly tough on some teachers who haven’t learned other scientific disciplines.

“A lot of teachers don’t have a great grounding in physics so they would need some help designing physics lessons,” said Brookhurst Junior High School science teacher Ken Kanouse “we need somebody who can teach robotics, we need someone who can operate a 3D printer,” and he hopes the grant funds will trickle some training down to his campus.

The ultimate goal is to improve teaching in order for more students to reach graduation day with the type of problem solving skills that the growing number of technical jobs will require of them.

But Cal State officials said the teacher training improvements will also lead to students better prepared when they enroll at any of CSU’s 23 campuses.

“We see all of this work leading to reduced remediation rates and greater success for students at CSU, faster graduation rates because the students are able to succeed in their work at CSU. So there is a direct connection to the CSU mission,” said CSU’s Director of Teacher Education and Public School Programs Joan Bissell.