Towson University has long been known as the “teachers college”. Though it is now a comprehensive metropolitan public university, TU still maintains its strong roots in teacher education. The pedagogies and curriculum have evolved over the years as the field and needs of our community and students have changed, today a large focus for TU and educators across Maryland is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education.
The Baltimore Excellence in STEM Teaching (BEST) project, which is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), realizes this and aims to improve STEM education at high schools and middle schools throughout the Baltimore region. The BEST project is a part of Towson University’s Center for STEM Excellence and offers training and mentoring to in-service STEM teachers and educational outreach to their students. Mentors come from many area higher education institutions, including TU. Participating teachers go through a 6-week summer research experience, which is followed by professional development workshops. Teachers then take what they have learned from the BEST Program and apply it in their classroom.
I was recently able to speak with Julie Damico, the Director of the BEST program. She began her position in July of 2010 and though the program is young, it is growing in popularity. Ms. Damico informed me that for the 2012-2013 school year, there were 52 applicants for about 20 spots. She also provided me with some thoughts from previous years’ participants and they had some great things to say.
- While many of the participants spoke of gaining more skills in their field, I was surprised to see how many talked about the confidence boost they received from the program.
- A lot of the teachers had not done research in a long time and this program was a chance to do just that.
- Many of the participants noted that this research experience helped to confirm that they had chosen the right career path.
This new knowledge and confidence invigorated the teachers and got them excited to take it all back to their students to improve STEM education in their classrooms.
BEST is a great program and it is making strides in the improvement of STEM education in and around Baltimore. I encourage everyone, and especially any middle and high school teachers, to check out the BEST program and see what it has to offer.