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A Southern Illinois University Edwardsville project fostering professional development among teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) continues to thrive. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) has awarded $340,000 to the Students Learning Science Through a Sustained Network of Teachers project.

The project originally began more than 25 years ago and offered training for high school chemistry teachers. It has since expanded to include professional development for middle school science teachers, as well as high school teachers in the disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics.

“This program exemplifies SIUE’s impact on the region,” said Eric Voss, professor of chemistry in the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the project. “There are extremely good job prospects for people to have careers in the sciences. One of the best ways to keep students interested in STEM is to have effective teachers at all levels.”

Sadegh Khazaeli, co-director of the program and professor of chemistry at SIUE, says a federal block grant,divided among six state projects, has supported the longevity of the program. Also contributing to the program’s success has been SIUE’s commitment to providing tuition waivers for attendees.

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Approximately 200 middle and high school teachers travel from an estimated 60-mile radius to attend the program annually. The teachers either receive Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDU), graduate credit or a stipend.  

“Our end goal is to positively affect student learning in Illinois,” Voss said. “Our content includes subject matter activities, demonstrations, laboratories, lectures and sharing among teachers, along with pedagogy and methods.”

 In the past five years, project coordinators have added an emphasis on implementing new state standards, including Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

“Teachers face big demands from the state to implement these new standards, but there’s not a lot of time to do so,” Voss explained. “A big part of our effort has been to have the teachers working in groups to develop assessments, units of curriculum and actual lesson plans that tie in better with the state standards.”

Despite the project’s successful history, its reliance on grant funding creates uncertainty for its future. Co-directors Khazaeli and Voss are investigating possibilities for alternate funding to ensure this professional development project continues.

“For any type of program like this, sustainability is difficult,” Voss said. “The program’s real strength is that it’s a value to the state and the region. Ultimately, if you have high-quality teachers, student learning will benefit.”

Contributing to the success of the project are the SIUE Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Research, Education and Outreach; the SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior; the SIUECollege of Arts and Sciences; and the SIUE Graduate School.

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