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Universities tap mobile for math, science teacher training

The University of Texas at Austin and three other universities are training new math and science teachers to use mobile in what is claimed to be a first-of-its kind national program.

The pilot program will run for a year at the University of Texas, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Kansas at Lawrence and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. It is a partnership among Verizon, UTeach Institute and the National Math & Science Initiative and is aimed at increasing student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

"A lot of schools are purchasing tablets," said Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of education and technology programs at Verizon Foundation, Basking Ridge, NJ. "If teachers are not trained [in] how you incorporate it into the everyday curriculum, you're not going to see student outcomes."

"That's why training [in mobile] is so important," she said. "We thought about this and said: 'Why don't we get to the teachers before they're even in the classroom?'"

"We think if you incorporate mobile technology, you're going to have even greater success.? 

Instructing mobile
College instructors are showing math and science education students how to use mobile in their classrooms as part of their lessons. The college students are learning to use tablets for educational purposes.

Through grant and purchasing programs, an increasing number of elementary and secondary schools have tablets, however teachers may not be trained on how to incorporate mobile technology into the curriculum.

Going forward, mobile will be critical to educating today's students, who are colloquially referred to as 'digital natives' since they grew up using technology and mobile devices.

Since September, math and science education majors at the four universities have been learning how to use mobile devices to supplement science, technology, engineering and math ? or STEM ? instruction. 

For example, they may be teaching high school students to make science videos using a mobile phone, as opposed to writing a science essay. The new teachers will learn how students can use mobile devices to collect data and share it with others.

This is something that today's teenagers are already doing. 

The program will officially debut Dec. 2 at a special event at Kealing Middle School in Austin with UTeach secondary STEM teachers from the University of Texas.

Nationwide there is a push to strengthen science and math instruction to keep pace with a rise in STEM jobs. Yet the number of students pursuing degrees in those fields has been falling.

In fact, a recent report from STEMconnector found that 3 million STEM-related positions have gone unfilled because of a lack of qualified graduates.

The Verizon UTeach program seeks to engage students' interest by using a gadget most of them own and use regularly.

"Students are already digital natives," Nixon-Saintil said. "Over 40 percent or 50 percent of students over age 13 already own a cell phone. They're already using it to communicate with friends."

Growing STEM
Through the new teacher preparation program, science and math teachers-in-training learn to incorporate mobile technology instruction in their upper elementary, middle and high school classrooms.

It is an extension of an existing program, which launched in summer 2012 and focused on current math and science teachers in grades four to 10.

The Verizon Foundation invested $1 million in grants for UTeach to update its curriculum and in donations of tablets and technology.

By 2015, the teacher preparation program will be extended to the UTeach curriculum, reaching more than 6,200 students enrolled in 35 UTeach programs at universities nationwide. The UTeach Institute works to improve STEM teacher preparation and instruction.

"There are so many different unique exciting ways that students can use technology in the classroom," Nixon-Saintil said. "We're excited to work with UTeach."

Final Take
Kari Jensen is staff writer at Mobile Marketer, New York