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"STEM" Teacher Education in Virginia

The Noyce STEM Teacher Scholarship grant at JMU is for students pursuing a secondary teaching license (for teaching grades 6-12) with a major in Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, or Biology. The major you pursue depends on the primary content area you want to teach. We recognize that referring to these programs collectively as "STEM teacher education" can be confusing so we hope to use this space to clarify the difference and overlap between being a "STEM teacher" and being a Science or Math teacher.

It is important to recognize that neither science nor math are synonymous with “STEM”, however, foundational knowledge and understanding in both science and mathematics is necessary in order to address problems and challenges using defined STEM practices. These practices involve well-designed integration of the knowledge and practices of science and mathematics with those of engineering, computational thinking, technology, and others. Instead of thinking of STEM as a content area, it helps to think of it as a practice and/or a teaching approach. For example, a science teacher may teach the laws of motion using standard science teaching practices including experiments and other hands-on experiences or they may teach it by having students participate in a STEM project using those STEM practices.

We sometimes use the "STEM" moniker when discussing science and math teacher education, but VA does not have a STEM endorsement for any grades K-12. Because of that, science and math teachers play a vital role in preparing their students for success in a STEM career. These teachers have the opportunity to both provide those key foundations in science and math for students interested in STEM careers and to pique interest in those who are unsure. Lastly, the creativity, ways of thinking, and problem solving skills that are developed through STEM are also necessary for a variety of non-STEM careers as well as for being an informed and scientifically-literate citizen. Again, these are not developed without strong science and math foundations. In summary science and math teachers are absolutely part of the "STEM educator" network. 

As described above, students pursuing secondary teaching in a STEM-related field in Virginia will earn their secondary teaching license with an endorsement to teach the subject of their major. Students endorsed in Biology or Earth Science are also certified to teach Environmental Science. Secondary Science and Math students may earn additional endorsements by passing the Praxis exam for that subject. Students who do this tend to have a strong foundation in that subject and/or take additional courses in that content area. 

Just because VA does not offer a STEM endorsement does not mean that students don't have the opportunity to learn and practice STEM in VA public schools. Depending on the school in which you are teaching science or math, you may have the opportunity to develop and engage students in STEM experiences. These experiences can be found in one or several class periods, throughout a curriculum, be reflected in the organization of a single course or an entire school, or be encompassed in an out-of-school activity (National Academies, 2014).

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