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STEM Education Gets Lift From Helios Foundation, NASA Mini-Grants

The University of South Florida is creating a new program to prepare STEM teachers for middle schools in Hillsborough County, Fla., with support from a $3 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation announced this month.

Leaders in the effort focused on middle school in part because that's seen as a critical juncture for young people, according to a recent story in the Tampa Bay Times.

"It happens to be a time in school when students tend to disengage around math and sciences," Stacy Carlson, a vice president at the Helios foundation, which has offices in both Tampa and Phoenix, told the newspaper. "If you can affect the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom, you can improve student achievement."

A press release from Helios also notes that a lot of middle school math and science teachers lack a college major or certificate in their subject.

A report issued earlier this year, drawing on national survey data from teachers, bears out this point. About one-quarter of middle school math and science teachers majored in those disciplines. (The figures rise somewhat, to 35 percent, for those who major in either math or math education, and 41 percent for those with majors in science/engineering or science education.)

In April, the Helios foundation and the Science Foundation Arizona announced a that seven schools and districts, were selected for a pilot program, supported by nearly $2 million, to develop models for STEM teaching and learning that can be sustained and replicated across Arizona.

Meanwhile, NASA announced last week that it's accepting applications for "mini-awards" of up to $2,500 apiece to support the work of museums, schools or districts, and youth organizations that wish to infuse existing summer programs with STEM content. The agency expects to issue 180 to 200 awards for this summer. The deadline is June 10, so there's not much time left. Applications can be submitted here.

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