ACTION prepares future science and math teachers

ACTION-web
Science and Math Education in ACTION director Daniel Brahier (right) shares a laugh with freshman Brooke Davis (left, in pink). Freshmen Melanie Heldman (in black shirt) and Paige Murta chat with sophomores Ally Rudolph and Mackenzie Murray (far right), who were helping the freshmen move into Offenhauer. Also moving in was freshman Morgan Bannister (back center, lime green shirt).

By Bonnie Blankinship

“ACTION has in some way raised the bar in math and science education here,” said Dr. Daniel Brahier, Professor of Teaching Excellence and director of the program. “I’ve heard from our faculty in Arts and Sciences that they can spot an ACTION student the moment they walk into the classroom. They’re more prepared, they’re engaged students who get other students engaged. This group of 100-plus students seem to have a kind of shock wave effect.”

Now in its ninth year at Bowling Green State University, Science and Math Education in ACTION recruits outstanding Ohio students who want to become science or mathematics teachers and provides them four-year scholarships and an intensive curriculum rich in subject content and pedagogy. Part of the Choose Ohio First initiative, it seeks to address the state’s shortage of math and science teachers, especially in the areas of chemistry and physics, which mirrors the national trend. ACTION graduates are being snapped up by school districts looking for highly qualified teachers.

The future teachers focus on either science or math and their preferred grade level, from fourth grade to high school. Each cohort has between 25 and 30 students. As part of a learning theme community, many live together on a floor of Offenhauer Residence Hall, where they can study, share and socialize together. The bonds they form become a significant part of their college experience.

In choosing among prospective students for the program, “we look for leadership skills, time donated to the community, students who are already volunteering and engaged and showing leadership,” Brahier said. “And they continue to blossom once they’re here. Many of them go on to become resident advisers and presidents of organizations. They’re so active in leadership, they have an impact on the whole campus.”

And they do jump right in, beginning with a summer bridge experience before their first freshman semester.

“I will admit that I was reluctant to give up my summer with my friends before going off to college, but the summer bridge program was by far the best experience to get me ready for college and I now realize how important it was to help me as a teacher as well,” said Kimberly Verhoff, who teaches chemistry, biology, botany and zoology at Tri-Valley High School in Dresden, Ohio. She was in the first cohort of ACTION, and returned this summer to address the new cohort of students.

At the other end of the education continuum, incoming freshman Morgan Bannister was exuberant on move-in day following the summer bridge. “It was a great experience and I’m really excited to be here,” said Bannister, a middle childhood math and science education major from Clyde, Ohio. “The alumni shared with us things they do with their classes and we learned a lot from them that I’m excited to try when I get into the classroom. Both my parents are teachers and I’ve always loved school. It’s like a second family for kids. School is a safe base where you can help them grow while you teach them.”

“I was able to make connections with other incoming freshmen and many professors within the science and mathematics departments, as well as the education department,” said alumnus Joshua Klein, who now teaches Algebra 1 to eighth- and ninth-graders in addition to calculus at Ada High School in Ada, Ohio.

As freshmen, ACTION members are involved in small-group science or mathematics research projects, working with a faculty member. Verhoff worked with chemistry faculty member Dr. Bob Midden, associate vice president for experiential and innovative learning and director of the Northwest Ohio Center of Excellence in STEM Education.

“I got a chance to work with students of all ages to figure out a real-world problem where I lived,” she said. “My research project involved working with Dr. Midden to determine the effects of runoff on local water systems. I now do a similar lab with my chemistry students each year. I also discuss ‘mega farms’ and their problems in zoology and biology.”

At the end of the year the freshmen create PowerPoint and poster presentations for the Choose Ohio First Research Symposium. This engages them in public speaking right away and is the first of three major presentations they will give during their time in the program.

“Not only has the program helped me to establish real world examples with my students, it has also made me a confident teacher,” Verhoff said. “I had to present projects to various faculty members and colleagues throughout my time at Bowling Green, and as a result, I am confident in being able to talk to colleagues and administrators at the school in which I teach.”

Sophomores have a practicum, or internship, during which they work in a local business, agency or industry setting to see how math and science are applied in the business world — knowledge they can share with their future students to explain how their learning is relevant. The ACTION students spend about 20 hours a week tackling a problem posed by the employer.

The interns must produce some type of project results for the employer, whether a PowerPoint, video or written report. Then they come back and present their findings to all the other first- and second-year ACTION students — the second of their major presentations.

Adams worked with local ergonomic chair manufacturer BioFit conducting efficiency time studies of work processes.

For Verhoff, “This business was a fish farm just outside of Bowling Green. I had to monitor levels of various chemicals in the water to make sure the fish and zooplankton were able to live. I now do a lab in chemistry classes involving this same concept to help students see how what they are learning can be applied to the real world.”

A second effect of the practicum is that it often validates and confirms their desire to be teachers, Brahier said. In addition to their presentations, they also write a reflective paper on their experience. “They will oftentimes say, ‘Having spent these weeks in a business setting, I realize I don’t want to be in a business setting — that’s not me. I like being in front of kids and working in the classroom.’”

Both the College of Education and Human Development and ACTION are committed to giving students earlier field experience, Brahier said. “From day one they’re on a bus going out to schools, helping teachers, really getting a chance to discern what teaching is all about.”

During their junior and senior years, the students conduct research on teaching methods, which they can perform while in actual classrooms during their methods classes and as student teachers — which also improves those experiences, Brahier said.

Adams has been studying the impact of project-based learning in the mathematics classroom, working with Dr. Kimberly Rogers, an assistant professor of mathematics. She will implement and test what she has been working on in her methods and student teaching this year at Springfield Middle School in Holland, Ohio, west of Toledo.

At the end of senior year, during their ACTION Capstone Colloquium, the students present their two-year pedagogical research project findings in a short PowerPoint.

“A parent came up to me after the seniors did their capstone presentation this April,” Brahier said. “He said it had been wonderful watching them grow. From seeing their freshman posters and now you extend that out four years and they’ve had so much experience and they seem so adult getting up there and presenting their work. He said their growth is just tremendous.”

“I think one of best things about ACTION is the opportunities you get,” Adams said. She has been gaining extra experience working as a tutor in the Math in ACTION Tutoring Hub housed in Olscamp Hall at BGSU. “Middle school or high school students can come in to get free help whenever they need it. Or we can work with them online. The kids are super nice, and there’s such relief for them when they get what they’ve been struggling with.”

Through faculty connections with ACTION, Verhoff was able to work as a summer lab assistant for cohorts two and three. “I learned how to set up a lab for students, how to prepare materials for lessons, and figured out how much extra work it takes to be ready for teaching beyond what you would see in the classroom.”

Having Brahier as the program director is especially helpful because he has also maintained his position as a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher in a local school for 27 years, Adams said. “He’s more aware of current issues and situations,” she said.

The program manager, Wendy Standinger, and secretary Cindy Fuller “are so great,” Adams said, and are always there to provide guidance and support. “You also get so much support from your cohort. If you ever have a question, you know where to go.”

All in all, Klein said, “The program helped me become a better mathematical thinker, and provided me with the confidence to start teaching in my own classroom. I was given many ideas for future lessons, connections with other new teachers across the state, and the ability to see the world of mathematics outside of the classroom with a practicum I completed with h2o Church's treasurer.

“ACTION was one of several defining experiences throughout my time in college. I would recommend anyone interested in pursuing a career in math or science education to greatly consider applying to be a part of ACTION, as it will exceed your expectations.”