"There is a critical shortage of science and math teachers in the United States," says Sally Jean, assistant professor of chemistry and science education at Keene State. The shortage is severe in New Hampshire schools, where many science and math teachers are teaching outside of their specialty. The jobs are there for science teachers, says Sally. "We need the good teachers - those who are strong in content and in pedagogy."
She stands next to a pile of large boxes reaching nearly to the ceiling in the back of a lab in the Science Center. In these boxes, and another 50 crammed into closets throughout the building, and the beginnings to the solution to the science teacher shortage: curriculum materials kits that Sally purchased with a $148,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to use in Project Inspire, a new science education program that is part of the general science degree for educations majors that KSC recently created. The kits contain materials that are used by students to help develop and teach science lessons. One kit contains apparatus for testing water, another plaster of Paris and molds for making "fossils." A popular kit among students and the children they teach, says Sally, is the one with the dinosaurs.
The idea for a general science major was originally proposed by Frederick Wolf, professor of physics. Sally developed the idea further and wrote a successful grant to the National Science Foundation. The College was awarded $148,000 by the NSF (with matching funds from KSC) to develop Project Inspire, three new science education courses for student teachers. These courses are Web of Science, parts I and II, and Phenomenal Science. The Web of Science courses, taught by Sally, are for elementary student teachers and cover astronomy, biology, chemistry, ecology and evolution, geology, and meteorology. Phenomenal Science, taught by Frederick, provides middle school student teachers with content in physics.
Critical though Project Inspire may be, science education students must make do with the same facility constraints that all science majors and faculty members put up with at KSC. Hunting through labs and closets to find the right materials kit can be a real pain for students, says Sally.
Not for much longer. The new Science Center will have virtually acres of space for storage, teaching, and workshops. In the new design, says Sally, science education will share a lab for classroom work with the biology department. Adjacent to the lab will be a storage area for science education curriculum materials. Next to the storage room will be a conference room that will be used for workshops, meetings, and other gatherings. The new arrangement of space will go a long way toward supporting Keene State's goal of increasing its number of graduating science teachers, says Sally.
"The College and the community need the students who are dedicated to science and who are dedicated to wanting to share the love of learning with others," Sally explains. In return, Sally says, Keene State needs to offer these students the best possible courses and facilities. A new Science Center is the last part of that equation.