The Elementary Teachers Engaged in Authentic Math and Science (ETEAMS) project provides a new, innovative professional development pathway for elementary preservice teachers to also seek certification to teach science or mathematics at the middle school level. The project is a collaborative effort, with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Corpus Christi Independent School District working together as partners to engage new teachers in field research focusing on the unique coastal environments of the region. Participants in the program contribute to research teams based at the University that are studying and modeling ecological phenomena of the Gulf Coast along southern Texas, including variation in seagrass composition, the depositional history of tidal flat regions, variation among beach clams, and flatworm behavior. In addition to gaining greater knowledge in science, technology, and mathematics, participants gain first-hand experiences with practices associated with contemporary field research and the use of information technologies to consolidate and analyze data. Participants also work alongside scientists to synthesize research results, and they work with practicing teachers of the participating school district to enrich the school curriculum with their findings from the research experiences. The effectiveness of the project in increasing self-efficacy in science and mathematics, enhancing teaching efficacy, increasing understanding of the nature of science, and promoting effective teaching behaviors are being studied using a longitudinal matched group research design that enables the project team to compare participant outcomes with those of teachers and students at schools with similar educational and demographic profiles.
The field research experience is a key feature of a new professional development pathway that prepares preservice elementary teachers for certification as science or mathematics teachers at the middle school level. The focus on marine biology provides opportunity to increase the science content knowledge of pre-service teachers in all the basic sciences, as well as in the integration of STEM areas of study. The enhanced teacher preparation program also includes special workshops to increase content knowledge in STEM fields, and regular planning sessions with master teachers to work on lessons, learning activities, and curricular units that are informed by the field research experiences. As new national and state curriculum standards for STEM fields place increasing emphasis on synthesizing practices and content across STEM fields, this innovative approach to the professional development of elementary and middle school teachers examines new ways of engaging new teachers in direct experiences with those practices and crosscutting ideas.