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UTeach STEM Educators: 2020-21 School Year Strategies and Equitable Learning Lessons

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Forty-five UTeach partner universities in 22 states and Washington, D.C., participated in this summer’s UTeach STEM Educators Virtual Summit.

Sessions explored topics from how to incorporate inquiry-based learning online to recruiting more Black STEM educators to the profession. The newest UTeach partner – the University of Houston-Clearlake – is a Hispanic-serving institution, furthering the UTeach Institute’s mission to train and retain more STEM teachers of color in the classroom. Eighty-seven percent of UTeach graduates stay in the classroom for at least four years.

Each session provided reflections and learnings from educators across the country. We’ve compiled highlights from the Summit so readers may gain insights from these intelligent, thoughtful voices.

UTeach Graduate Panel

“Early on, I found that mentor teacher that I could talk to, and I’m still very close with him today. Find that person that resonates and annoy the heck out of them by leaning on them.” – Will Dunn, STEMTeach KU (University of Kansas)

We ask our students to be learners, and we need to remember that we’re learners, too. Be human and remind yourself that it’s okay if something doesn’t go right this time because it could go right next time. Tomorrow is a new day. Share that experience with your students.” – Kira Lowery, UTeach Austin (University of Texas)

Supporting K-12 Students in a Remote Learning Context

UTeach developed Resources for Remote Learning to provide a streamlined grouping and list of resources for educators

Strategies for starting the school year remotely:

“Establishing parent contact is really important. Assign someone to contact parents so they’re not getting a ton of messaging from different folks. Talk to different school groups about streamlining communications to parents.” - Annette Aguilar, UTeach Arlington alumna (University of Texas system)
  • Send student surveys so the teacher knows what times students like to do their work.

  • Be flexible without lowering expectations (different ways to submit assignments or office hours).

  • Starting the school year virtually and creating relationships without being in the building: Make connections using previous years’ teachers.

  • Find ways to build relationships remotely with colleagues/educators starting new jobs or moving to new schools.

  • People first. Content second. Technology third.

  • Keep things comfortable for introverts.

Assessments and Cultural Responsiveness for Remote Learning Environments:

  • What do family members think and know about topics being discussed in class so teachers can gain perspective on their thinking?

  • What are students’ digital access needs to submit assignments. Strict deadlines can have issues. Assess how the time can fit within their schedules. Do students have time to resubmit?

  • What is a fair formative or summative assessment? Projects by themselves? But this assumes students have certain materials. Ask what they have resource-wise generally – internet, quiet space, etc. Teachers need to be flexible in terms of time for the assessment.

  • With internet hotspots, if teachers make videos too long, it’ll take up a day’s worth of data.

  • Choice and flexibility with assessment modalities (ex., one-on-one oral interviews).

  • Equity: Student choice over when to take a specific assessment; also given opportunity to retake remote assessments.

  • Keep it simple: asynchronous resources that students can access by phone.

  • Students can pick up USBs filled with content for those with limited or no internet access.

  • Provide take-home packets with correct answers for independent practice so students only have to go online for their assessments.

Adapting Curriculum, Classroom Interactions

Led by UTeach Austin's associate professor Jill Marshall and Ariel Taylor, assistance professor of practice

‚ÄčSocial justice and classroom interactions:
  • Start with equity and use it to frame everything in the course, rather than treating equity as a separate subject (like collaborative learning, questioning strategies, etc.). Educators need to explicitly recognize that inequities affect every part of the classroom from the beginning.

  • Culturally relevant teaching uses rich tasks with multiple points of entry

  • Use a Privilege Sale, where students have a set amount of money to purchase privilege and then debrief afterwards. Resource: The Privilege Walk

  • Bring in development officers of color, and work with the school to change marketing and materials

  • Educators need to become knowledgeable and educated on social justice in the classroom – spending time getting to know the literature. Don’t expect students to educate teachers.

  • Literature to move from deficit view to an asset-based view of cultures

  • edTPA requires students to deploy assets, but students have difficulty recognizing assets. We must help students reflect on and acknowledge assets.

Ideas for online Classroom Interactions:

Methods used by Marshall and Taylor that they want to keep:

  • Special guests to Zoom meetings: UTeach alumni talk about their experiences

  • Flipped model: Have students do in-class activities outside of class in small groups, then report back in Zoom sessions

Resource: Creating Community in Virtual Classrooms

Teaching Inquiry Remotely

Led by Elizabeth Goldberg, assistant professor of practice, UTeach Rio Grande Valley (University of Texas system)

 “This would be difficult in even the best of situations – and it’s particularly hard because we are UTeach and inquiry is in our DNA. We’ve been taught that using student-centered inquiry, using manipulatives and being right there with them so they can ask questions and have them talk to each other, and then they took it all away. I’m amazed to see how creative everyone has been doing without having those tools. Can you teach inquiry remotely? Yes.” – Goldberg

  • Strategies are easy and free and can be integrated into technology.

  • This method will work for either in-person or online, so if teachers are doing a hybrid model, they don’t have to come up with two different lessons.

Visuals: 

  • Important. Bad visuals or no visuals will make teachers “beat their heads against the wall.”

  • Don’t be afraid to use Google Images. Go to Google to show what something looks like during a live class discussion. 

  • Start with simple images and build upon it with more complex ones, like when showing layers of DNA.

  • Go overboard with images, but don’t overwhelm. Show one at a time.

  • Use the whiteboard function on Zoom or other whiteboard software so that students can digitally write directly over the teacher’s slides. If using multiple colors and the classroom has color blind students, make sure other methods are in place to support them. Students can mark all over the screen in a private mode.

Online Synchronous Teaching:

  • Chat box: democratic way all students can participate at the same time but is intimidating for those who are poor spellers or English Language Learners. Use both the everyone chat and private to the teacher only feature to meet different students’ needs. The private chat also keeps students from repeating what other students say, is a safe space and keeps everyone accountable to respond. Mix in unmuting microphones for responses to dive into deeper questions.

“Teachers don’t want to put a wrong answer in front of STEM peers. Guess what? Your students aren’t any different.” – Goldberg

Manipulatives:

“I love my manipulatives. I have cut out features and more that are now locked up, sanitized in a cabinet somewhere. I can’t gain access to manipulatives. What do I do? Make your own digital manipulatives.” – Goldberg

  • Ask students to sort by moving around the cards or other items put in PowerPoint slides. Ask students to share their screens to know what they did.

  • With manipulatives, they can’t do it via public sharing because if everyone is in the same slide, no one can do individual work. Students should download their own copies. Let students sort items in different ways, and then share why they chose particular methods.

Free resources for online manipulatives:
Teaching with NEONS
Pasadena ISD (Texas) Mathematics
Teachers Pay Teachers

Online Demos: 

  • Show a pre-made video just like in-person class – like a YouTube video. Goldberg is a fan of muting the video and asking questions about what is happening in an experiment – making predictions of what will happen next.

  • Flipped classroom: Students watch the video on their own time and then talk about the video during synchronous instruction.

  • Show a live demonstration. Fancy equipment isn’t necessary. Plenty of household items work for chemistry or other science experiments.

Resource: BioInteractive

Breakout groups online:

  • Disadvantage: Teachers won’t know what’s going on in each; but if they have students write notes on a shared document under sections for each breakout group, then they’ll know which ones aren’t on task or going in a wrong direction and then can jump into those breakout groups.

  • Ask students to assign a timekeeper and a reporter for each group that will share with the main group; saves them from coming back to the main discussion and not saying anything.

“You are innovative and imaginative and are going to do amazing things in the fall. We are the ones that are going to bring inquiry-based learning to the remote classroom. Do not see this as a challenge; see this as a chance to transform education. Be creative, be flexible and be forgiving. You’re not going to get it right the first or 10th time. You are going to do amazing things, and I can’t wait to see what they are.” - Goldberg

Diversity in STEM Teacher Workforce

When a student has a Black educator, they have higher academic performance in K-12 and higher education.” – Julian Thompson, United Negro College Fund

Inequality appears in digital learning, particularly when it comes to Black and Brown communities in this nation. I think about the help and urgency needed in forming partnerships to take on this new paradigm of education and taking it to socioeconomically needed communities across the country. One way NMSI tackled this is by partnering with Comcast to help provide internet access, while NMSI provides content.” – Bernard Harris, CEO of NMSI

“In recent months, the inequality exposed in Black school systems – in a sense, I have joy in watching everything exposed. We’ve come to see just the magnitude of the differences at hand. One of those things is the value of the Black educator. Going into teaching and the classroom, it didn’t take long to realize society’s value on me, my Black colleagues and Black students. There is no true value seen within you when a Black educator is inside a Black school system. There is a big gap when compared to other school systems. Often times, teachers bring this groundbreaking research in the classroom that really doesn’t match the demographic in the classroom but is held in such a great pedestal. Education policy often doesn’t benefit the Black classrooms or the Black teachers. But it’s been exposed. We’ve seen how students inside Black school systems have been truly hurt by the pandemic. It’s very interesting and curious to see how we as a nation will respond.” – John Cross, UABTeach alumnus (University of Alabama at Birmingham)

How are we as educators reproducing social past inequities in our country? UABTeach requires curriculum on critical race theory – an approach to uncover privilege and power in pre-service education.” Paulette Evans, UABTeach clinical instructor and director

HBCUTeach initiative: partnership among UTeach Insitute, NMSI, UNCF and 11 historically black colleges and universities across the country. With the pilot school year starting in the fall, HBCUs and UTeach will look critically at current teacher pathways and how to implement UTeach in an HBCU environment.  

“NMSI partners with the UTeach Institute to scale the UTeach program throughout the country. NMSI’s mission is about reaching students furthest from opportunity, which requires us to reach out to Black, Brown and socioeconomically disadvantaged rural areas. We made a conscious effort to develop a program at HBCUs in concert with the UTeach Institute, Robert Smith’s Fund II Foundation and UNCF. We want to make sure Black STEM teachers have a program at HBCUs. We need black representation – not only in colleges or the teaching force. If we can make an impact in increasing the number of STEM-trained Black teachers in the country, guess what? A majority will teach in Black communities. The end game is to have more Black and Brown students go into careers in STEM, and if they do, that is amazing.” – Harris

“Whatever area you have influence or direct say-so, step back and assess, ‘Is the Black person being truly represented and heard?’” - Cross

Closing Session

“I let students know if you need extra time, take it. Focus on self-care. Remember we can get through this.” – Alexander Eden, UTeach Boston alumnus (University of Massachusetts) who will go into his second year of teaching in the 2020-21 school year

I’m a human taking care of myself, and you need to do that as well. If we do that, everything is going to be OK.” – Ariel Taylor, assistant professor of practice at UTeach Austin

“I’m offering incoming students open house sessions throughout the summer to meet me and see my face. It’s really important to have that opportunity as they would in a traditional orientation setting.” – Rachel George, academic advisor, Teach STEM (Central Washington University)

“This past year, I wanted to grow relationships with parents, and I had monthly parent newsletter updates on what we’re doing in class. This increased parent involvement that helped during remote learning. Sometimes mom or dad would come on one-on-one meetings with me to explain a topic to them so they could help the student.” - Eden

When I’m having a tough day, I remember why I’m doing this: for our students. That’s a core value we need to maintain after the pandemic is over.” – Pat McGuire, UCSTeach co-director (University of Colorado Springs)

“Part of being a post-COVID teacher is taking the opportunity to advocate for consistent change. Getting access to technology in ways we’ve never seen before. More students have access to free food. Teaching is more flexible and less focused on standardized teaching. What are the advantages, and what are the things that worked? What can we take from that and apply long-term?” – Karina Bhutta, 2020 FIUTeach graduate (Florida International University) and new teacher in 2020-21 school year

“I hope we can make sustainable change. The time is now. The time was last year, but the time is now. I’m hopeful we can have more uncomfortable conversations in schools. Education is a true representation of reality. We need to look at content more critically. Look at formatting. We’re understanding, through differentiated and blended learning, new possibilities that we didn’t think were possible in February.” - Taylor

Learn more about NMSI’s role in UTeach expansion

From this two-day UTeach conference, reporting by NMSI communications manager Angela Chambers, along with notes from Jessie Steenburg, digital marketing manager, and communications coordinator Jerry Richard, contributed to this story.