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Why are people not being attracted to Teaching or Science, Math and Technology

by Bonnie Bracey

In spite of all I know about technology, I have a relative who will not bite. I offer these thoughts and resources...

The Knowledge Divide

Ask teachers what they need in order to do a better job, and the first response is always "more time." Teachers not only work while in front of a class, but also frequently need to prepare as many as five different lessons every day as well as correct papers and mark tests. Yet somehow they are expected to find their own time to develop and update their knowledge and skills to maximize student learning. Time must be made available so that professional development for teachers can become a seamless part of the daily and year-long job as it is in other countries. Many high-performing corporations also have built learning into the job for all of their workers. For American schools to become such learning enterprises, they must rearrange their schedules to make better use of existing time and make new time available for teachers to learn and keep abreast of change. See at <>

The Knowledge Divide.. in Teaching

I want to give a personal view and to ask members of the list if we understood the culture of schools and schooling for teachers. I wonder what we think would create change and transformation. I am unabashedly more a science teacher than a technologist, a math teacher attracted by powerful ideas taught to me outside of the culture of schools.. Technology is but a tool. I am not a master technologist, but I learn a little more each time. I also learn on line with people who collaborate, share and give wonderful ideas.

MAKING MATH MAGIC IS NOT HARD (If you know the math)

In schools, Math is often is out of the book, with the teaching a mile wide and an inch deep.. Math is often practice of drill. I have been a teacher whose children were at the top of national tests in problem solving, but on grade level in drill and practice. That is hard to explain to an administrator.
In my teaching evaluations there are complaints about my students doing hands on math. Comments such as "This teacher should use the book she has been given is one of the other complaints about the use of technology". How many of us have actually finished the book, by test time? How many finish the book. How many of us have covered the ideas of the standards by the end of February, and why should we when there are months to go?. Why is testing so in the middle of the school year! The case for the case of testing gets fierce in February and March. Practice tests, and then the round of preview tests, then state, local and national tests. The calendars create lies about our work. We become test centric without major tools to explain to the stakeholders in our localcommunity.


The people who do school calendars and who write the math books are not always on the same calendar, Nor are the people who write the tests for students.

In the schools we are told for simplification that there is one way to do a problem, the way of the book, but now we have many books, the Internet and online mentors. TIMMS ways of working.

Until compelling software came along, there was difficulty showing and sharing intricate ideas, because children could not visualize or think what in the world the teacher was talking about. There now are programs where you learn the math, practice it, and then can practice it on an application, a game, a way of proof. Who gets to decide what software we use , is a very important person with a great responsibility.

In the culture of schools in many cases, science, math and technology are taught to pre-service teachers in very shallow ways. Professional development in many school systems is quite costly, but generally not very effective. The organizations which do it for teachers nationally may be too expensive and the conferences difficult to get to, and the sages on the stage have great messages, but to apply what one learns to the place where one works there has got to be peer permission or strong leadership or both. The general teaching public is not affected so much by pioneering teachers. When in doubt , the schools throw the pioneers out of the systems. The politics of the school site are not much understood by congress, CEOs, or citizens. There is a power in local that is supreme in most cases. Despite the technology changes in society, being a teacher in American schools too often consists of helping children and youth acquire information from textbooks and acting as an additional source of expertise. Teachers are provided role models of this approach to teaching from kindergarten through graduate school; their teacher education courses provide hints for making textbook-oriented instruction interesting and productive, and as teaching interns, they both observe and practice instruction based upon mastering information found in books.

Teachers may be forgiven if they cling to old models of teaching that have served them well in the past. All of their formal instruction and role models were driven by traditional teaching practices. Breaking away from traditional approaches to instruction means taking risks andventuring into the unknown. But this is precisely what is needed at the present time.

The general teaching public is more affected by local permission to achieve or fail. There usually are not a lot of minority teachers in the mix for many reasons which I will not detail, but there also are few people who work in urban schools who work with the students who may need the most transformational help who get the perks of being passionate about what they do.

Real Teachers, Real Math, Real Science, Real Technology Use Instead of taking science, physics, chemistry, math in the real sense, teachers are often offered the subject " for teachers". You can be sure it is very different from the main course as taught to science majors. I know this because with a cadre of teachers , I have been through the NASA system
and learned the real science, the real applications , and was forced to knuckle down and learn the real science. It was perhaps the "gender " thing that first kept me away from it, but in the NASA culture there was no place to hide. There was also a lot of support and on and offline sets of resource.

More than any teacher could ever exhaust. The only problem was often if the leadership in the school system would accept NASA educational materials and experiences as being of value. That has not always been the case.

There have been special projects. Many of the teachers I work with in the NSTA system started out at a place where there were teachers and scientists and professors who understood the teaching and learning process. There were Science Institutes that were sponsored by NSTA, NSF and other groups. All of the teachers did not know science. But the point of the leadership academy was to create a network of educators and to give us teaching and learning experiences in academic and in informal learning places. The beauty of this kind of project was that there were people who were willing to learn. The application was for people who were interested, and who would commit the time. The reward was being connected to learning, earning points toward a degree, finding mentors and being put on the path to leadership. Often finding out about opportunities like this is difficult, but with the use of technology there are better possibilities.

Where are the large- scale projects like this? NSTA, NASA, NCTM, National Geographic and others offer these opportunities.

The question is who gets the information, who gets permission, who can afford to give up a summer, who mentors people , when they finish these opportunities . Often, there are specialized hand picked groups who are "given' permission to do this kind of project. Often teachers work during the summer, or the involvement in the project creates a financial handicap. What if it was online, with permission from the school system several times a week to do this work , with short focused meetings on a state or national basis that would allow more participants.

What if the teachers left with wonderful things, permission to attend a conference , some mentors and a head full of knowledge. It gives a wonderful confidence.

John Glenn asked the question at a conference several times, " Why do our children do poorly in science after the fourth grade? I have some answers and would be interested in yours. The culture of schools supports reading science in many ways, science as a static activity , because it is not messy. and not hands on science, closets full of equipment that are not accessible to the teacher, and intricate funding systems that preclude getting the magical things of science for the experiments and experiences..

Often the dissemination of the knowledge, information, resources in science go to a cultivated few teachers . .

Technology or a Tease? Information what? Highway or Byway?

How would you be able to work if your pencil was always down the hall and you had to use a slate? One of the compelling things about the use of technology is the way in which we can correct our mistakes, find words, learn new applications, take the pain out of proofreading and grammar. Most people decry that we teach word-processing skills to students without ever being aware of the pain of the red pencil.

The personalization of technology is a wonderful journey as well. To be able to explore, examine, evaluate, to get evidence of the power of the technology is an education no one can give to you. This is a journey of self learning and a gift to oneself.

Bonnie Bracey
230 G Street, SW
Washington, DC

Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education
1201 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 800-582-0115
Triangle Coalition focuses its action in three major areas: advocacy, communication, and programmatic efforts to advance science, mathematics, and technology education for all students.

The Triangle Coalition joined other societies in co-hosting a congressional briefing discussing the "Challenges to Finding and Keeping Teachers." The briefing focused on the challenge to most school districts in finding and retaining quality K-12 science, mathematics, and technology teachers.
Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced the discussions which included remarks by Emily Feistritzer of the National Center for Education Information. The discussions surfaced the possibility that the problem may not be a shortage, but rather the ability to retain the teachers we have.
During the briefing, Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania shared the report, "Turnover Among Mathematics and Science Teachers in the US," which showed that the problems school have adequately staffing classrooms with qualified teachers are not primarily due to teacher shortfalls, stemming from either increases in student enrollment or increases in teacher retirement. Rather, the report indicated that school staffing difficulties are primarily a result of large numbers of teachers departing the profession for other reasons, such as job dissatisfaction, or in order to pursue other careers. According to the report, the findings have important implications for educational policy. Teacher recruitment programs - the dominant policy approach to addressing school staffing inadequacies - will not solve the staffing problems of schools, if they do not also address the problem of teacher retention.