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February 6, 2006

UCSC launches California Teach to boost numbers of highly qualified math, science teachers

By Tim Stephens

The California Teach Program is creating new opportunities for students in mathematics, science, and engineering majors to prepare for careers in teaching. The UCSC program is part of the UC systemwide "California Teach" initiative designed to increase the number and quality of science and math teachers in California schools.

Gretchen Andreasen and Barbara Sorensen
Gretchen Andreasen (left), director of the UCSC California Teach Resource Center, with Barbara Sorensen, coordinator of the California Math and Science Teaching program. Photo: Tim Stephens

California faces a critical shortfall in the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in the state's secondary school classrooms, according to state officials.

At the national level, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future) emphasizes the need for vast improvements in K-12 math and science education. The California Teach Program is a direct response to these concerns, said Stephen Thorsett, interim dean of physical and biological sciences, who oversees the program at UCSC.

"Our goal is to widen the pathways available for science and math undergraduates to go into teaching," Thorsett said.

First- and second-year students interested in the new program can take a spring-quarter seminar course this year together with a paid internship in a local school. The internships will also be open to students at regional community colleges who plan to transfer to UCSC, said Gretchen Andreasen, director of the UCSC California Teach Resource Center.

"This is a great opportunity for students to explore the possibility of teaching as a career," Andreasen said. "Students will be placed in a school where they will spend up to five hours per week with a mentor teacher, assisting and observing in middle and high school science and math classes."

The deadline for applications to the spring-quarter program is March 15. Andreasen noted that participation does not require any long-term commitment.

"We want to generate interest among students and build enthusiasm for future teaching careers, and also provide support for local schools," she said.

The long-term goal of the systemwide California Teach Program is to produce 1,000 new science and math teachers for California schools each year. UCSC's portion of that, based on its relative size, is about 75 teachers per year. The campus currently produces about 20 to 25 graduates per year from the Education Department's master's program for secondary school science and math teachers, Andreasen said.

The California Teach Program was originally conceived as a way for science, math, and engineering majors in the classes of 2009 and later to prepare for careers as secondary school science or math teachers. But many students who are much closer to graduating have also expressed interest in the program, Andreasen said.

"A lot of students don't start thinking about their career options until they are further along. So we want to figure out how to provide support for sophomores and juniors who are interested in teaching and get them on the path too," she said.

Each campus is developing its own program to implement the systemwide California Teach initiative. At UCSC, the program is building on the past success of the California Math and Science Teaching program (CMST), which provides fellowships and teacher training for science and math majors in their junior and senior years. CMST is a UC program managed jointly at UCSC by the Departments of Mathematics and Education.

"CMST has existed for decades and has been a very successful program, and that work will continue through California Teach," Andreasen said.

CMST coordinator Barbara Sorensen will teach the spring-quarter seminar course for the California Teach Program. Sorensen, a former math teacher at Watsonville High School, said her own experience and feedback from CMST graduates affirm that teaching can be a very rewarding career for students in math and science who receive good teacher training and support.

Andreasen is also working with the UCSC Education Department to plan a version of the education minor that is aligned with state credentialing requirements for single-subject science and math teachers.

"We're working toward the creation of an undergraduate program approved for credentialing, but we're not there yet," she said.

Information about math and science teaching careers and pathways into those careers will be provided at a Saturday Open Lab event at UCSC on March 4. Cosponsored by California Teach, the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS), and the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), the event will be open to students at UCSC and regional community colleges. For more information, contact Liz Espinoza at (831) 459-2676.

Information about the UCSC California Teach Program is available on the web at http://calteach.ucsc.edu/.

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