With major NSF grant, UNH supports NH teachers

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A major National Science Foundation grant to UNH aims to improve science and mathematics education for middle and high school students in Manchester, Nashua and Rochester schools. The five-year grant will support 15 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers to build their leadership skills, equity pedagogies and STEM content knowledge and instruction.

“It’s never been more important for all New Hampshire students to have access to high-quality STEM education,” says principal investigator Lara Gengarelly, UNH Extension specialist and affiliate associate professor for science education in UNH’s Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science and Engineering Education. “Given the shifts in the K-12 science education landscape in the U.S., the performance disparities in STEM subjects across different populations of students and the changing demographics and pockets of poverty in New Hampshire school districts, supporting teachers as leaders in STEM and equity education is essential work that UNH is well-suited to lead.”

“Supporting teachers as leaders in STEM and equity education is essential work that UNH is well-suited to lead.”

The $1.49 million grant will fund a program called Building Equity Leaders for STEM in New Hampshire (BELS in NH) that engages partners from Manchester, Nashua and Rochester school districts as well as two professional organizations, NH Teachers of Mathematics and NH Science Teachers Association, that serve K-12 teachers in the state. Lessons learned from this project can then be applied regionally and nationally.

BELS will recruit and work with STEM teachers in grades six through 10 to participate in a master teacher fellowship program over five years. In addition to deepening their STEM content knowledge and pedagogies, fellows will engage in equity and justice-focused training that aims to enhance their capacity to design STEM learning experiences that are community-responsive, relevant and authentic. The Manchester, Nashua and Rochester school districts represent some of the largest and most demographically diverse and dynamic school districts in the Granite State.

UNH collaborated with these school district and professional organization partners on the BELS in NH project design, resulting in a program that targets local needs and goals while building on the existing strengths, experiences and insights that all partners bring to the project. “The inclusive, community-responsive and participatory design of the professional development is particularly exciting,” says Judy Sharkey, co-principal investigator and professor of education at UNH. “There is a shared commitment to and responsibility for success of the project across all of the BELS participants and team members.”

In addition to Gengarelly and Sharkey, the UNH project team includes Ruth Varner, Leitzel Center director, professor of Earth science, and co-principal investigator on the grant; Chris Bauer, professor of chemistry; Karen Graham, professor of mathematics; and Stephen Hale and Laura Nickerson, project directors at the Leitzel Center. The project will be housed administratively in the Leitzel Center, which collaborates across the university with STEM and STEM education faculty to fulfill its mission.