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Sunshine State News: School in Session, STEM in Focus

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

By: Ed Moore, Ph.D. | Posted: August 28, 2012 3:55 AM

Across Florida, kids are donning back packs and hopping on yellow buses heading back to school.

This school year brings with it an increased focus on accountability, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – important building blocks for research, development and economic growth.

For a long time, Florida – as well as the nation – has faced a shortage of graduates from STEM majors. In 2010, the Florida Council of 100 released research that found our state would need 100,000 more science and math-industry professionals than we were on track to produce over the next five years.

Needing 100,000 more of anything is a staggering number, and needing 100,000 industry professionals to ensure our state does not lag behind in these crucial areas of growth was a huge red flag. But as mentioned, Florida is not alone in needing more science professionals. This is a national problem, but Florida is poised to leap forward. To do so effectively we need to use all of our assets and resources to help continue the improvements in our educational systems.

The aforementioned red flag was heeded in 2010 as the Florida Legislature enacted its “Education Accountability Act” which required students to pass specific end-of-course exams to get a high school diploma. The act also added biology, geometry, algebra II, chemistry and physics to the list of required courses.

While these changes were designed to increase student participation in science and math courses, they did not detail how students would gain more knowledge or how instructors would teach these courses better.

According to school district staff development surveys around Florida, professional development offered statewide to teachers in science and math varies widely by district, and is not always available. Rural counties across the state face the largest challenge. Qualified physics and chemistry teachers may be especially hard to come by.

This random approach leaves students unprepared for upcoming end-of-course tests. It is also stifling rather than encouraging interest in math and science classes. This reduces the pursuit of science and math in colleges – thus creating fewer qualified teachers to energize students in the future and fewer STEM professionals entering the work force.

This year we see changes as more energy and resources are being put into STEM education. As a case in point, a cooperative partnership between the Florida Department of Education, the University of Tampa (UT), Florida Independent College Fund (FICF) and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) has created the ScienceMathMaster program focused on increasing the tools available for Florida’s educators to help them accomplish their goals. This program is hosted on the ICUF website,, along with many free eLibrary resources dedicated to enhancing the Florida classroom.

The eLibrary includes more than 130 online video, audio and module tutorials on topics including art, science, math and education, as well as radio history podcasts and self-directed training modules that deliver college-level instruction to complement high school subjects, college course work and postgraduate studies. The eLibrary also hosts a first-time teacher certification module and continued education courses, social studies, art and history coursework.

ScienceMathMaster modules are tools for parents and students, but most importantly for teachers to assist in enhancing curriculums in science and math. The modules are a knowledge-acquiring source which currently focuses on biology and geometry, but with plans to expand into other topics in the near future.

The overall ScienceMathMaster program is comprised of three elements: 1) a website and sessions with upgraded online science and math videos and modules for classwork and homework; 2) four school-year sessions on-campus and on-site, focused on biology, geometry and the Next Generation Sunshine Standards; 3) two summer sessions at the University of Tampa for participating educators that include coursework, hands-on labs and student demonstration classes to teach and test ScienceMathMaster lessons.

The current ScienceMathMaster modules are now available free at As Florida schools welcome their students — the next generation of teachers, nurses, writers, legislators and inventors — back this school year, these online tools for teachers, focused on these essential subjects will help fuel the future of Florida.

Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.


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