CSTL launching revamped master’s programs to help meet the demand for science teachers nationwide

Sept. 9, 2019

Earning a master’s degree from NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning is about to get a lot more accessible.

Starting in 2020, the center, also known as the CSTL, will revamp its two master’s programs into one fully online curriculum, with a focus on getting classroom teachers certified and helping already certified teachers prepare for the next phase of their career.

“We’re just designing it to accommodate more teachers and have larger cohorts working together online,” said Danielle Ross, the graduate programs coordinator in CSTL.

The Master of Arts in Teaching Science (MAT-S) has been a full-time, on-campus master’s degree, designed for people who earned a degree in a science field and wanted to begin teaching but didn’t have a teaching certificate. The focus was on pedagogy—how to teach science. It included a semester of student teaching, as well as hours in the classroom starting in the first week of the program.

The Master of Arts in Science Teaching (MAST) was geared toward in-service teachers who wanted to move into administration, be a STEM coordinator or teach at a community college. Ranked 18th in the country for online master’s in science education programs, it was a hybrid program with on-campus classes that students throughout the country could join via Zoom. However, they had to participate in class at the time it was offered, which was usually after the regular school day. That meant students on the East Coast finished class at 10:30 p.m., then got up to teach the next day.

CSTL professors noticed a drop in MAT-S enrollment about three years ago that coincided with Arizona allowing people who were subject-matter experts to teach in secondary schools without certification. At the same time, they heard from students in other parts of the country who wanted to earn their MAST degrees that taking the online classes at a set time was too hard on their schedule.

“They want to be able to work at their own pace and on their own time because of their professional and family commitments,” Ross said. “What I’ve noticed is when someone inquires about the program, I explain that they still have to show up at certain times and they say, ‘I can’t do because of work and family commitments.’”

After some brainstorming, she said, they came up with the idea to combine the curriculum, which would mean larger cohorts with fewer classes, and to make it all online, allowing students to complete their work on their own schedules. The MAT-S program will be geared toward teachers who are already in the classroom but who don’t have certification; although they will still have a mentor teacher, do practicum hours, student-teach and meet all of the state’s requirements for certification, that can all happen in their classroom.

“We’re trying to be more accommodating to someone who’s in the classroom and give them the opportunity to get certified,” Ross said. “We thought it would be more of a draw for more people to say, ‘hey, you’re working, you’re getting paid for teaching, now you can also get your teaching certificate by taking these classes.’”

The benefit of that, besides learning pedagogy from the experts, is if teachers want to leave the state. Most states accept teacher certification from other states with a few or no caveats; they will not accept subject-matter certification.

The MAST curriculum will basically be the same, just all online; Ross has told about half a dozen excited applicants that they can apply this year and defer to next year. It will still include either a thesis or a research project, which for many students involved them developing curriculum to introduce what they’re learning as students into their classrooms as teachers.

“That’s more of a personalized, individualized, culminating project for their graduate degree, bringing together everything they’ve learned into one final piece of work,” she said.

“To address the extreme shortage of properly qualified and certified science teachers in our state and nation, we need a multipronged approach to teacher preparation and professional development,” said Max Dass, director of the CSTL. “The revised, fully online, master’s degree programs for pre-certification and certified teachers will make teacher education and enhancement opportunities available to many more teachers than was possible previously. We are essentially taking education to where the teachers are, rather than expecting them to come to us. The fully online option opens up this opportunity to teachers all across the U.S., which helps advance the CSTL mission of impacting science education in Arizona and beyond though innovative programs, partnerships and scholarship.”

People interested in learning more about the revamped programs or about NAUTeach, CSTL’s innovative program for preparing math and science teacher candidates, should visit the CSTL’s website.