Boise State University

Program puts innovative math and science teachers in Treasure Valley classrooms

STEM Night at Garfield Elementary School in Boise. Science, technology, engineering and math teachers are in short supply.
STEM Night at Garfield Elementary School in Boise. Science, technology, engineering and math teachers are in short supply. Boise State University

While there has been a national push over the past decade to encourage students to study the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, local secondary schools have long struggled with how to best engage students in these hard sciences.

There simply aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill the Treasure Valley’s growing need for STEM teachers.

Boise State University’s IDoTeach program is providing a solution. IDoTeach is an academic program designed for undergraduate students studying in STEM fields who wish to one day share their expertise in a middle school or high school classroom.

Unlike traditional education programs where students earn a degree in secondary education, the IDoTeach program allows Boise State students to major in a STEM discipline while at the same time studying how to best instruct students in the discipline. This allows them to simultaneously earn their teaching certificate and content-area degree.

Here’s how it works: Undergraduate science, engineering and mathematics majors sign up for IDoTeach, typically during their freshman or sophomore year. From then on, they take classes in their chosen STEM major as well as education classes taught by faculty from multiple colleges. Disciplinary coursework is blended with early inquiry-based teaching experiences led by these master teachers.

Inquiry-based teaching means that instead of learning that teaching methods revolve around opening a textbook and assigning reading, these future teachers are learning how to draw students into the hard sciences by posing and pursuing answers to thoughtful questions or designing experiments.

Past generations of students would sit in math and science classrooms and copy down everything their teachers dictated or wrote on a board. Now our STEM teachers take a more hands-on approach with students, who are given concepts or problems to solve on their own, or in small groups, with expert support by the classroom teacher. This allows students to experiment, explore and truly understand the mistakes they’re making or when they get a problem right.

Of course, there is always some direct teaching in a classroom. However, when a teacher is able to first meaningfully engage students, as opposed to starting by lecturing at them, students are involved in the learning process and able to retain information better.

In fact, if you talk to students in the IDoTeach program like Kelci Lester, a senior in materials science and engineering who plans on teaching after graduation, or sit in on a math class with graduate and current Capital High School math teacher Josh Watson, you’ll hear and see the same thing: in-class discussions, questions and even debates about hard-science subjects that previous generations thought were not up for debate.

This is what the future of education looks like.

IDoTeach is based on the UTeach STEM teacher preparation program created at the University of Texas, Austin. The program has been replicated on at least 50 college campuses across the country.

Now in its fifth year at Boise State, IDoTeach is housed within the College of Education. Our program is spearheaded by Drs. Michele Carney and Laurie Cavey.

Cavey has two degrees in mathematics and a Ph.D. in math education, and has worked in teacher education for 14 years. She currently teaches math courses for the mathematics students enrolled in IDoTeach. Carney is a biology major who taught math and science in the Treasure Valley for years before earning her Ph.D. in education.

These women not only are facilitators of educational change at Boise State, they are working in service to the school districts.

While our students are capable of singing the program’s praises, Carney and co-director Cavey stress that its success is due to its collaborative relationship with other colleges on campus as well as the master teachers who are dedicated to educating tomorrow’s STEM secondary teachers. In addition, the in-the-field teaching experiences that students are provided throughout the program are vital.

Great STEM teachers are desperately needed in Idaho. Parents know it, school districts know it and so do the local schools eager to partner with our program. IDoTeach is yet another example of how our Idaho universities are stepping up to meet the workforce needs of tomorrow. You can learn more about the IDoTeach Program at Boise State at idoteach.boisestate.edu.

Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. His column looks at the state of scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho.

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