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Tampa Tribune: STEM teachers: A critical investment in Florida’s future

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By Christopher Lunsford

Having been a math teacher in Florida for more than 13 years, I can tell you from first-hand experience that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is one of the most critical areas of focus for students today. As Florida’s economy continues to rebound, there is a need to produce graduates who are ready to enter a STEM-related field to help meet our state’s growing workforce needs.

The number of open STEM jobs in Florida has grown significantly in recent years. In fact, the Tampa Bay metro area recently had the highest demand for STEM occupations in Florida, with 10,825 openings, according to the 2014 Florida Metro Forecast by UCF’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

Preparing students for careers in these challenging fields requires having teachers with a deep understanding of the subject matter and the ability to excite and engage students in the learning process. In order to do that, teachers need professional development opportunities that fine-tune their teaching skills and improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

Investing in our teachers will lead to improved academic success and increased student interest in STEM careers, which is a win-win for Florida.

Through a grant awarded by the Florida Department of Education, the University of Tampa is working in partnership with the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) to bring teachers in the Tampa Bay region and 32 rural districts a professional development tutorial in science and math through the ScienceMathMaster (SM2) program.

I recently participated in the SM2 teacher training program and benefited from its face-to-face collaborative workshops, which included lesson plans for integrating the new Florida Standards into the classroom, demonstration ideas, coursework examples and curriculum tools. I had the opportunity to interact with my peers and share ideas about ways we can enhance classroom instruction while instilling a love of learning in our students.

The SM2 program also offers free online modules for teachers statewide through the ICUF developed eLibrary. The SM2 eLibrary delivers a tailored online science and math curriculum for every Florida educator. Teachers have access to videos, learning modules and workshop materials at their convenience.

SM2 is hosting its fourth annual summer workshop at the University of Tampa this month. Teachers from the Tampa Bay area and around the state will have the opportunity to work directly with expert faculty members from the University of Tampa and upgrade their skills in math and science so they can be more effective in the classroom. The program helps teachers learn how to create lessons that take the skills and knowledge students are learning and apply them to everyday life in interesting and relatable ways.

STEM education will continue to play an important role in our economy as we strive to produce and retain talented STEM students in Florida. Keeping educated professionals in STEM fields after graduation will fill jobs, close the “talent gap” and make Florida a national model for innovation in science and technology. But in order to do that, we must invest in our teachers and provide them with more professional development opportunities such as SM2. By investing in our teachers, we invest in our students and help ensure a brighter future for our state.

Christopher Lunsford is a teacher at Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough County.

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