New NSF Grants Support Cal Teach Berkeley Scholarships, Internships, and Research

Monday, December 7, 2015

Current and prospective K–12 teachers involved in the Cal Teach Berkeley program now have more opportunities to develop as science and math educators, thanks to two new grants that extend National Science Foundation (NSF) support for scholarships, internships, and research experiences.

Part of a larger University of California initiative, Cal Teach Berkeley prepares undergraduates with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors for teaching careers, particularly in high-needs urban and rural schools where the shortage of qualified science and math teachers is greatest. A specially designed curriculum makes it possible for UC Cal Teach Berkeley students to complete both a STEM major and teaching credential in four years.

Five years of additional funding from the NSF’s Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program will allow Cal Teach Berkeley to provide 43 students with $10,000 scholarships over two semesters. Recipients of these scholarships will be expected to follow through on their commitment to become science and math educators in high-needs schools after they complete a teaching credential. Students from UC Merced who participate in the UC Berkeley Cal Teach program through a partnership between the campuses are also eligible for these scholarships.

“The scholarships help students with financial need stay at Berkeley. They also have a positive impact on students’ decision to pursue their interest in teaching in a high-needs school district,” says Elisa Stone, director of Cal Teach Berkeley.

Noyce scholarship recipients during the first phase of funding were typical of Cal Teach Berkeley students. A large number were first-generation college students from low-income families, and nearly 75 percent came from groups underrepresented in teaching both nationally and in California. Approximately one-third were Latino students.

“We have a lot of really bright students who are keen to give back to their communities,” says Professor of Statistics Deborah Nolan, faculty co-director for Cal Teach Berkeley. “It’s wonderful to be able to support them in that.”

With the new funding from the Noyce program, Cal Teach Berkeley will also provide 60 students with paid summer internships and weeklong externships. The internships allow prospective teachers to work with younger students in an informal education setting such as the Lawrence Hall of Science or the Exploratorium, while the externships permit juniors and seniors to shadow K–12 teachers full-time at the start of the school year. In addition, the new grant will fund an evaluation of the Cal Teach Berkeley program’s overall effectiveness.

“The award gives us the ability to look more deeply at the impact of our program on teaching,” says Professor of Engineering George Johnson, also a Cal Teach Berkeley faculty co-director. “We hope to develop a lot of insight into what works.”

A second grant, awarded for three years through the NSF’s STEM+Computing Partnerships Program, allows Cal Teach to offer summer research experiences focused on computing and engineering computation skills. Starting in 2016, BERET+C (Berkeley Engineering Research Experience for Teachers Plus Computing) will join an existing Cal Teach summer program pairing current students and local teachers in science and math research projects. The new grant will fund 27 BERET+C participants per year.

Through BERET+C, teams consisting of a current Cal Teach Berkeley undergraduate, local teacher, and graduate student mentor will conduct research and apply what they learn to develop curricula that integrate engineering computation and computing into K–12 science and math instruction. They will also take part in professional development seminars and workshops during the academic year.

“This program recognizes the importance of computing and computational thinking,” says Johnson. “We want our graduates to think about ways to incorporate computation and computer science in what they do with students. We also want computer science students to think about going into teaching and to see it as an attractive career option.”

As a former Berkeley High School science teacher, Stone has firsthand knowledge of the benefits teachers gain from research experience. She says, “My strengths as a teacher come from my having done research in science labs and connecting that to my teaching. I want Cal Teach students to have that same experience, and the Common Core and Next-Generation Science Standards make it important to bring computing into the program.”

Together, the new NSF grants advance Cal Teach Berkeley’s goal of recruiting and retaining high-quality science and math teachers. Nolan says, “Cal Teach is still a relatively new program, and this support demonstrates that it has gained full steam. It’s wonderful see it grow to be such an important part of STEM education on campus.”