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Ashley Warokomski shows
students at West End Neighborhood House how to make “slime” using glue, glitter
and other materials, as they experiment with how the ratio of
ingredients affects the result.
A small group of University
of Delaware students majoring in science or engineering spent the summer
engaging children and teens in STEM-related educational activities—part of a
new initiative designed to interest more undergraduates in teaching careers.
A 2016 research brief from
the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank, found
that 42 states reported shortages in available math teachers and 40 reported
shortages in science teachers. Student enrollment in the next decade is expected
to grow by 3 million nationally.
While demand grows, the
institute said, the supply of teachers is shrinking, with attrition in the
profession averaging 8% a year and fewer college students enrolling in and
graduating from teacher preparation programs. The shortage is especially
serious in schools serving low-income children.
Delaware is no exception.
At UD, the College of Arts
and Sciences (CAS), which includes the University’s Center for Secondary Teacher
Education programs for prospective middle-school and
high-school teachers, is beginning an initiative to address the problem by
raising awareness about teaching careers among undergraduates and faculty in
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
“We’re looking at a shortage
of teachers across the board, and we want to improve our efforts to attract and
retain them in secondary education, especially homing in on STEM,” said Suzanne
Burton, CAS interim associate dean for the arts, who oversees the teacher
education program. “We want students to be aware that we have this great
teacher education program at UD and to think about it as an option.”
Plans also call for outreach
to science and math faculty members to encourage them to make their students
aware of teaching as a possible career choice.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
River Shannon oversees a project at West End Neighborhood House in which children use
markers to draw patterns on coffee filters and then observe what happens when
the filter absorbs water.
Students in the University’s
secondary education program earn a bachelor’s degree in a content area—completing
all the degree requirements of their discipline, in addition to
teacher-education courses and fieldwork in schools—and graduate with the
preparation needed for state certification to teach in grades seven through 12.
Programs include English, foreign languages, music and social studies, in
addition to science (biology, chemistry, physics or earth science) and
“A lot of undergraduates may
not be thinking about the benefits of a teaching career, and they also may not
realize that not all teachers are in that career for their entire working
lives,” said Amy Trauth, who recently began a new position as associate
director for secondary STEM education, part of the CAS initiative.
“Some new graduates begin
working in industry and then look for a change to something they find more
fulfilling, while others start out as teachers and then move into something
else. What we want to do is to expose our students to a variety of options.”
Trauth launched a first step
toward that goal with a STEM Scholars program this summer in which about a
dozen students worked in Delaware schools and community centers with elementary
and middle school youngsters.
As part of science and math
enrichment programs, they led their students in activities that ranged from taking
mock moon walks as astronauts to catching an invasive species of toad to making
egg-carton “spinal cords” while learning how the brain functions.
At Mount Joy United Methodist
Church’s UrbanPromise summer camp in Wilmington, senior Gabi Dagher used her
background as a neuroscience major to also teach her elementary-age children
about the human brain. She challenged the students to create their own skits
that showcased the six major parts of the brain and their functions and, she
said, was impressed with the students’ creativity.
experience was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do,”
Dagher said of her work. “I’ve gained a new appreciation for teachers as I’ve
realized how much work goes into planning a lesson.
“Whether it is
teaching full time or volunteering at after-school programs, I want to be
working with kids in some capacity in the future.”
For mechanical engineering sophomore
Reiley Bond, teaching at Appoquinimink High School’s summer program in
Middletown, Delaware, also inspired him to think differently about his future.
Although he still plans to work as an engineer after graduation, he said the
idea of teaching at some point in his career now seems like a real possibility.
Teaching, he said, “feels
much more rewarding than any job I’ve had in the past.”
That feeling was echoed by
juniors Ashley Warokomski and River Shannon, both science majors who taught
this summer at West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington. The variety of
subject matter, from space to insects, kept them busy planning hands-on
activities that would hold the interest of active youngsters, they said.
An “insect safari” in the
neighborhood park, with Warokomski dressed as a park ranger and her students
carrying insect-catching kits, was a highlight of the summer, she said. The
hardest part of the lesson turned out to be
getting the kids to stop the safari when time was up and return to the
Although Warokomski and
Shannon said they haven’t made any definite career plans, both called the STEM
Scholars project worthwhile.
experience has taught me a ton,” Warokomski said. “It has taught me how to be
flexible and how to be mentally strong. It has taught me that kids can teach
you just as much as you can teach them. Best of all, it has showed me that
teaching is extremely rewarding.”
For Trauth, that
outcome is exactly what the program has been designed to do. She met with the STEM
Scholars each Friday, discussing such subjects as pay and benefits that
teachers receive and the job market for STEM teachers.
“This summer, the
students worked in informal settings, but they were teaching STEM, and I think
it got them thinking about teaching,” Trauth said. “And they’ve been great
students. Everyone who worked with them has told me how outstanding they are.”
During the fall
semester, the Center for Secondary Teacher Education plans to hire a director
for the program and to offer a one-credit seminar that explores teaching as a
career. Students in that seminar will probably visit schools for a
less-intensive field experience than was possible during the summer, Trauth
said, and will learn about all aspects of teaching as a career.
“The whole purpose is
to let any interested STEM major check out what teaching is like,” she said.
“We want students to be able to explore the question: ‘What is it like to be a
teacher?’ We think many of them will find more positive answers than they might
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape
Published Sept. 4, 2019