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STEM Initiative Targeting Elementary Teachers Gets Boost

A university center aimed at improving elementary instruction in the STEM disciplines recently got a shot in the arm, with three foundations committing a total of $400,000 to help advance its work.

What's especially noteworthy about the center, launched last year and based at St. Catherine University, is the emphasis on elementary-level educators, since so much of the oxygen in STEM circles has been given to secondary teachers. The university's National Center for STEM Elementary Education is devoted to both preparing new teachers to effectively teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and providing professional development and advanced certification to existing teachers.

(In another example, Maryland is working on plans, funded under its successful Race to the Top grant, to develop an elementary STEM teaching certificate, with the idea being to promote teaching STEM across the curriculum.)

A recent report argued that elementary educators are often neglected as a vital avenue to improving STEM education. The report noted, for example, that prospective teachers can typically get a license to teach at an elementary school without taking a rigorous college-level STEM class, such as calculus, statistics, or chemistry, and without demonstrating a solid grasp of math or science knowledge or of the nature of scientific inquiry.

The new grants, announced last week, include $250,000 from the 3M Foundation, $100,000 from the Boston Scientific Foundation, and $50,000 from the Medtronic Foundation. (Previously, 3M provided a grant of $240,000 to St. Catherine for its work in STEM education.)

"In order to improve competencies and aspirations in math and science, it is vital to reach students in their elementary school years," Marilee Grant, the director of community relations at Boston Scientific, said in the announcement last week.

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