Noyce Summit: STEM Teachers, Researchers Share Tips

Noyce scholars and fellows were among the nearly 500 attendees of the 2017 Noyce Summit in Washington, D.C. | Michael Colella

Fostering connections among teachers of all experience levels and education researchers is essential to recruiting, training and retaining talented science and math teachers in classrooms across the country, attendees of the 2017 Noyce Summit said.

The conference, held July 19-21 in Washington, D.C., brought together nearly 500 teachers, college and university educators, and researchers to exchange ideas about how best to attract, train, support and retain science and math teachers and to spur research on how best to prepare science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree holders and professionals to teach science and math in high-need schools.

“This is an opportunity to start drilling down on some really hard problems of creating this cadre of teachers of STEM who can support the learning of all students in all kinds of learning environments,” said Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS’ Education and Human Resources program, which co-sponsored the summit with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education.

Shirley Malcom addresses attendees of the 2017 Noyce Summit. | Michael Colella

“We are talking about the health and the future of science,” an enterprise that requires talented STEM teachers who are prepared to educate the next generation of scientists, engineers and informed citizens, Malcom said.

The summit is supported by the NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which encourages college students and professionals to become K-12 teachers. The program provides funding for scholarships for STEM majors who commit to teach in high-need schools, fellowships for STEM graduate students and experienced “master” teachers, and education research projects. In the last 15 years, the program has placed more than 10,000 teachers in classrooms though the country.

The 2017 summit drew some 150 current and former Noyce undergraduate and graduate student scholars and fellows. One panel highlighted the experiences and concerns of several Noyce alumni who are launching their careers as math and science teachers in high-need schools — schools that may have trouble attracting or retaining quality teachers or have significant populations of low-income students.

One ever-present goal, the panel agreed, is connecting with students, tapping into their curiosity about the world, linking lessons in math and science to students’ lives — and answering the ubiquitous question from students: “Why do we need to learn this?”

“It’s my job to actually answer this,” said Erica Stills, a Noyce alumna who has taught high-school mathematics in Texas. “Answering the ‘why’ questions is how I try to advocate STEM in my classroom,” said Stills, who seeks to connect lessons with the real world by, for instance, showing YouTube videos about careers that draw upon particular math topics.

The panelists also discussed rising to the challenge to ensure that economically disadvantaged students are exposed to similar experiences as their wealthier peers. Kayla Croteau, who teaches at a high school in rural New Hampshire, brings students to an annual women’s STEM event at a nearby college, where students can learn about careers that they previously might have been unaware even existed.

Panelists also emphasized the importance of mentoring. Connecting with a more experienced teacher helped a number of the panelists acclimate to the classroom, deal with the stress of their teaching jobs and avoid burnout — an important goal in schools where retention is a challenge. Noyce alumnus and panelist Genaro Villalobos teaches at one such high school in south Texas where nearly one-third of teachers left at the end of the last school year.

Connections among teachers, such as those facilitated by the Noyce Summit, are invaluable to incoming teachers like Erika Florido, who gained critical math teaching experience as a Noyce scholar at California State University, San Bernardino. 

“I feel there’s a lot of support in the Noyce community,” Florido said. Thanks to the experienced teachers she has connected with through the Noyce program, Florido has found answers and inspiration for the challenges that she faced as a student teacher. The summit has also introduced Florido, who hopes to pursue a master’s degree, to new paths for STEM education research.

“It’s really encouraging,” Florido said.