INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Indiana has a severe shortage of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers, but a new partnership aims to fix that challenge in a unique way by supporting educators with inspirational programs when they need it most—when they first start.
Butler University is collaborating with The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Zoo, and Codelicious to establish the STEM New Educator Academy to support and retain new STEM teachers throughout the state of Indiana. Initially funded by a $230,000 grant from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the initiative provides mentorship and professional development opportunities for K-6 teachers in the first three years of their careers.
“The teacher shortage in Indiana is a state crisis, but we have the knowledge and tools to solve it,” explains Dr. Catherine Pangan, Butler Professor of Education and Director for the STEM New Educator Academy. “The first years of teaching can be challenging, and creating solutions to support new STEM educators is crucial for success. Through this collaborative and experiential program, we hope to move the needle so teachers want to stay in the profession and be part of our dynamic community. The Academy’s goal is for participants to feel inspired, confident, and capable of serving as STEM leaders in their schools—and in turn, passing that inspiration on to their students. The program’s partners are not only champions for educators but also offer unique and exceptional educational resources. Thinking nationally, the inclusion of such powerhouse partners has the potential to transform the traditional professional development model in education.”
Cohort members in the 11-month program will attend twice-monthly training sessions covering an integrated and project-based curriculum meant to empower them with strategies for developing a “STEM habit of mind” in their classrooms. Lessons include content from topics such as life and health sciences, conservation, biology, sustainability, engineering, chemistry, and computer science, as well as pedagogical models to help teachers meet the needs of all learners. Participants will also receive mentorship and support from a group of experienced STEM educators. Both the cohort members and their mentors will come from under-resourced districts across the state.
There is an economic loss of up to $20,000 per educator when teachers leave the classroom, and Indiana has a teacher churn rate of about 13 percent—compared to the national average of approximately 8 percent. The number of new teachers entering the profession has also fallen significantly over the past decade. The STEM New Educator Academy aims to change that narrative, drawing on recent research showing that a strong sense of belonging is linked to a 56 percent increase in job performance and a 50 percent decrease in turnover risk. When combined with higher teacher salaries—as recommended by Indiana’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission—community connection is an important element of effective solutions.
Butler’s College of Education (COE) will serve as the primary home for the STEM New Educator Academy, providing the pedagogical foundations needed to create a cohesive curricular experience. Butler faculty will be invited as subject matter supporters in collaboration with the project’s partners, and the COE will oversee enrollment, communication, and overall operations. New educators and their mentors will also receive a STEM Educator Certificate from the University upon completion of the Academy.
Through The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, cohorts will have access to immersive content galleries and robust networks of scientists to help them develop meaningful STEM curricula that is exciting for teachers and students. All participants will also receive an individual museum membership during their time in the program.
“A keystone of education at the museum is immersing teachers and students in STEM content through our exhibits,” says Becky Wolfe, Director of School Programs and Education for The Children’s Museum. “This includes everything from visiting a recreation of the International Space Station to traveling back to the time of dinosaurs. Our exhibits and hands-on experiences provide teachers with inspiration to connect STEM learning to the real world.”
The Indianapolis Zoo will provide professional development focused on conservation in education. All educators will receive a Zoo membership, and their classrooms will have the chance to visit the Zoo for a field trip. The Zoo’s expert network includes Indianapolis Prize winners and life science researchers from around the globe through the newly opened Global Center for Species Survival.
“Educators are one of the most important influences on inspiring the next generation of conservationists,” says Bill Street, Senior Vice President of the Indianapolis Zoo. “Connecting STEM educators to real-life conservation issues worldwide, and introducing them and their students to the unsung heroes saving wildlife and wild places, provides opportunities for young people to identify careers in the preservation of species and empower them to make a positive impact in our world. The program connects STEM educators to our living collection and introduces them to how they can encourage students to take simple actions that can save species both here in Indiana and around the globe.”
Codelicious, a company that develops full-year computer science curriculum for K-12, will provide direct instruction preparing program participants to take the Indiana Computer Science Licensure exam. Additional content from Codelicious curriculum will be embedded throughout the year, including topics of data analysis, impacts of computing in career fields, and computational thinking application.
“We know introducing computer science and computational thinking improves outcomes for students,” says Christine McDonnell, Codelicious CEO. “We also know from our partners that finding teachers and ensuring they have the professional development and training they need to feel confident teaching computer science is a challenge. Codelicious is designed to be responsive to these needs by empowering every teacher to engage and inspire every student. As part of the STEM New Educator Academy, we will leverage that experience to help early career K-6 teachers build confidence in including computer science and STEM practices in their classrooms.”
The grant-funded program is free for participants. Applications for the Academy’s first cohort open in December 2021, and training begins in February 2022. The initiative’s proposed two-year budget of $453,000 has been partially funded by the recent Higher Education Commission grant, and fundraising efforts are currently underway for the remaining costs. Leaders hope to eventually obtain long-term funding that would allow them to expand the program to reach a wider variety of participants.
Indiana-based K-6 STEM teachers in the first three years of their careers can express interest in the STEM New Educator Academy using this form.
Kimberly Harms Robinson
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
About Butler University
Butler University is a nationally recognized comprehensive university encompassing six colleges: Arts, Business, Communication, Education, Liberal Arts & Sciences, and Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Approximately 4,500 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students are enrolled at Butler, representing 46 states and 22 countries. More than 75 percent of Butler students will participate in some form of internship, and Butler students have had significant success after graduation, as demonstrated by the University’s 97 percent placement rate within one year of graduation. The University was recently listed as the No. 1 regional university in the Midwest, according to the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings, in addition to being included in The Princeton Review’s annual “best colleges” guidebook.
About The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis:
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. For more information about The Children’s Museum, visit www.childrensmuseum.org, follow us on Twitter @TCMIndy, Instagram @childrensmuseum, YouTube.com/IndyTCM, and Facebook.
About The Indianapolis Zoo:
The Indianapolis Zoo protects nature and inspires people to care for our world. Located in White River State Park downtown, the Indianapolis Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Alliance of Museums as a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden. Visit IndianapolisZoo.com.
Codelicious delivers the resources, training, and support teachers need to confidently teach computer science. By providing comprehensive curricula that enables educators to effectively integrate high-quality computer science instruction in K-12, Codelicious curriculum empowers every teacher to engage and inspire every student. Learn more at Codelicious.com.