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Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Students pursue program promoting science, math teaching

– Science and math education in the United States may be viewed as flawed experiments lately, but some 200 University of California, Berkeley, students majoring in math, science and engineering may help fix that through a new program promoting teaching of these crucial subjects.

The students have signed on for various components of the Cal Teach program, a joint venture between the University of California and California State University systems, state government and industry leaders. Its goal is to help alleviate the state's continuing shortage of science and math teachers by getting 1,000 new teachers from those fields into K-12 classes in California by the year 2010.

"We thought it was going to be a very tough sell, but students are turning out in droves," said Mark Richards, executive dean of UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, dean of its division of mathematical and physical sciences and a professor of earth and planetary science.

For math and science students who could earn a bachelor's degree at UC Berkeley and land a job at Google with higher salaries than their professors, choosing teaching might seem counterintuitive, said Richards. But these students will enter the working world with science and math diplomas as well as hands-on experience in teaching, he said, adding, "They're not cutting off career options; they're expanding them."

Cal Teach started its second full academic year at UC Berkeley this semester, and Nicole Nunes, the Cal Teach program coordinator on campus, said interest is strong among the incoming freshman and transfer students in math, engineering and science who are alerted about the program.

"There are a lot of people at UC Berkeley because they like learning, and that's basically why they want to teach," said Nunes, who earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry before spending a decade teaching high school chemistry and physics in Bay Area public and private urban schools.

The Cal Teach Web site notes that just 4 percent of California's 9th graders now go on to earn a bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering and nearly 1,500 math and 800 science classes in California high schools were taught in 2002-2003 by teachers with no teaching credential. Even more courses were taught by someone with a credential unrelated to those fields.

Brian Ikkanda, 19, a UC Berkeley chemical biology major, education minor and a Cal Teach participant, said he loves helping youngsters understand concepts during his field work in a physical science class at Oakland Technical High School and a physiology course at Berkeley High School. "I enjoy it when I see students get that 'Aha!' moment."

George Johnson, a UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and co-principal investigator for Cal Teach, leads a freshman and sophomore seminar that introduces students to teaching math and science. "Many students enter engineering because of their own successes in math and science, and their interest in applying them," he said. "I believe that engineers can be excellent teachers because they see the connections between math and science. Our goal is for the students in the Cal Teach program to think of themselves as highly skilled engineers or scientists or mathematicians who also choose to teach."

Some UC Berkeley students are attending Cal Teach offers workshops that advise students about how to go about obtaining teaching credentials after they finish their undergraduate studies and others are enrolled in undergraduate classes about how to teach science and math. Questions from Cal Teach students generally focus on what it takes to motivate students, how to manage a classroom and how little money teachers earn, said Nunes. The latter, said Richards, will remain a roadblock to getting more and better teachers in the classrooms until schools and taxpayers opt to increase compensation.

The program gives students first-hand experience by dispatching them a few hours each week to work with mentor teachers in local schools in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord for "a taste of what it's like to teach," said Nunes. They also receive a small stipend, she said, for their assistance with lesson plans, classroom demonstrations and more. The UC Berkeley students also provide support by running small group tutorials for students who may lack basic skills, helping those with learning disabilities and assisting with other activities. Richards noted that there has been positive feedback and high demand for Cal Teach help from school administrators, principals and teachers.

"I have had some great experiences in the Cal Teach program," said Ikkanda, who grew up in Chino Hills, Calif. "I have learned a lot about the different aspects of teaching, from the theoretical to the practical. Most of my involvement included helping out the students individually or in groups with specific assignments. I was also able to just interact with the students and get a feel for how they think."

Dorothy Tang, a 21-year-old applied mathematics major from San Jose, said she comes from a long line of educators - and she's definitely got the bug, too.

"I love kids," Tang said. "Just being able to spend time with them makes my day. There are always the perks of imparting your knowledge, and hopefully leaving a positive impact on their life."

She has been working at Berkeley High with beginning English students in algebra and other students in math analysis. "For the algebra class, it's been great to be able to apply what we learn in our (UC Berkeley) cluster course for our major - how to teach basic mathematics to a student. Also, since not all students speak solely English, it's been an awesome experience to teach algebra in Spanish!"

Tang said she plans to teach secondary school mathematics, "Probably because math is a tough subject to many kids, but is an alright subject to me."

"I think that getting the fundamentals and basics down is key in how a student carries on in his or her math later on in life, or anything in general," said Tang.

Sarah Salazar teaches 6th-grade math and 8th-grade algebra at CAL Prep, an Oakland charter school that is a partnership between Aspire Public Schools and UC Berkeley and emphasizes college preparation. She said Cal Teach students serve as role models.

"My middle school students get exposure to college kids who often look like and sound like them. These are people who 'made it,'" she said. "Many of my kids don't have adults in their families that attended college, and these college students are important because they show it is possible."

"When they look at what they want to do, many of our students do want to give back to the community," said Johnson. "They do want to teach, but they haven't had a chance to explore that."

More information about Cal Teach is online at: http://calteach.berkeley.edu/.

Related information: Lawrence Hall of Science report on the status of science education in Bay Area elementary schools