Florida STEM TIPS addresses the challenges of teacher induction

Florida STEM TIPS addresses the challenges of teacher induction

01.15.2015

"Can't imagine first-year teaching without it!”

The University of Florida was one of the first universities to partner with the UTeach Institute to implement the UTeach program and continues to innovate in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teacher preparation with Florida STEM TIPS.

STEM TIPS (teacher induction and professional support) is a virtual induction program offering beginning teachers easy online access to community, resources, and mentoring 24/7. The program was developed by a team of professors at the University of Florida, working with veteran teachers and in consultation with key stakeholders.

“Turnover is higher in teaching than in any other profession, and the highest attrition rates are among secondary mathematics and science teachers,” says Dr. Griff Jones, director of the STEM TIPS Initiative and a clinical associate professor of science education at the University of Florida and former master teacher at UFTeach.

imageInduction – a one- to three-year period of support and mentoring for beginning teachers – is essential to keeping new STEM teachers in the classroom. However, the challenges of mentor availability, distance, and time, make implementing an effective induction program for new STEM teachers problematic for many districts, schools, and universities.

In the first year of the two-year STEM TIPS initiative, developers conducted a needs assessment to determine the types of support that new teachers most need to become effective classroom teachers. “Research and experience have shown that new STEM teachers need specific assistance in developing engaging, standards-aligned lessons; applying high-leverage instructional practices; and implementing effective classroom management strategies,” says Dr. Jones.

The STEM TIPS content is organized in four main sections:

  • Quick Tips – a community of practice for beginning teachers
  • Coaching – one-on-one virtual support and mentoring from veteran teachers who are content specialist and have been trained by the University of Florida to be effectively online instructional coaches
  • Collections – a repository of vetted resources
  • Collaboration – a virtual meeting space that can be customized around specific topics and content areas

The second year of the initiative has been spent developing and testing the platform and its content for effectiveness and usability. The STEM TIPS’s platform is designed to mimic popular social media sites like Facebook, including being mobile-ready, so that teachers using it can network, collaborate, and build a sense of community. “Our site was field-tested by over 1200 teachers from 15 school districts in Florida,” says Jones.

School leaders and STEM teachers both have high praise for the new program. “Florida STEM TIPS has been an exciting and beneficial asset to our New Teacher Induction Program. This program has offered on demand, timely support to teachers who need it most, our newest teachers. While we offer wonderful programs to assist new teachers, this online coaching is there right when they need it most,” says Kathleen Orloff, Director of Professional Development at Palm Beach County School District.

Jacki Clark, 9th grade biology teacher says, “The 24/7 specialist support is INVALUABLE… My time is so short and my school no longer has a Science coach… now I have an entire Science STAFF to help me!.”

Already, STEM TIPS has developed partnerships with three universities outside of Florida: Montclair State University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Vermont. These universities use the STEM TIPS, Jones says, “to support their pre-service teachers’ field-experiences and to ensure continued expert guidance to their graduates during their first crucial years in the classroom.”

The innovative two-year pilot project was funded by the Florida Department of Education and Race to the Top. After the initial two-year grant period, subscribers will support the program. The program is customizable to universities, districts, and schools. Interested educators can get a tour of the site and access some of its components by going to the Florida STEM TIPS homepage and clicking on the “Get access!” button. 
According to Jones “There is a lot of interest in our project, both nationally and internationally. The future for STEM TIPS is very bright.”