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Nevada higher ed institutions collaborate to train STEM educators

Five people standing and watching as a woman pours a blue liquid into a clear graduated cylinder.
Kelly Hanlon
University of Nevada, Reno
A NevadaTeach student demonstrates an experiment to high schoolers at Sparks High School in Sparks, Nev.

STEM education in Nevada is getting a boost through a new undergraduate student training program.

Nationally, elementary students, on average, only receive 17 minutes of science instruction each day. That’s according to a 2018 study from the National Science Foundation. It’s why the Nevada-based Desert Research Institute (DRI) launched a new program to boost STEM education.

“We are currently short on teachers to fill the needs of the classrooms statewide,” said DRI STEM Education Program Manager Emily McDonald-Williams.

Using a $1 million grant from the federal Department of Education, DRI is pairing University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas students with elementary teachers to bring more science, technology, engineering and math into classrooms.

“This program is really designed to help increase the confidence of the students who are majoring in education, so that when they are ready to enter a classroom, they feel more prepared,” McDonald-Williams said.

The program will encourage learning at all levels by creating teams of undergraduate students and local teachers. Each team has one student majoring in elementary education, and another in a STEM field, like biology or environmental science.

The teams will study the STEM needs of their assigned school and design a curriculum unit or a teaching video to fill an instructional gap. In the end, STEM majors get an opportunity to communicate complicated concepts to a general audience and the education majors get a chance to build confidence in the classroom.

Through the program, DRI is also supporting educators who are already in the classroom, especially elementary teachers who face time constraints when it comes to teaching STEM.

“There’s not always a lot of dedicated time to science in classrooms,” said Raggio Center for Advancement in STEM director Mandi Collins. “It’s just more constrained. And so, by bringing a program like this in, it’s giving them the access to STEM lessons, quality STEM lessons, for their students.”

About 30 students statewide will participate in the program this fall. DRI will open applications for the spring semester in December.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Jose Davila IV is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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