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Improving STEM Education is Arizona with SB 1038

Mike Vargas Uncategorized

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So, if you have not heard, the Arizona legislature this past session passed a bill called SB 1038. The Acts official title is the Arizona Teachers Professional Development Pilot Program.  This bill was championed by Rep. Paul Boyer, and State Senator Sylvia Allen who worked with state leaders to address the issue of students losing access to higher level STEM classes such as Physics and Chemistry. Under this new legislation, 150 teachers in STEM and CTE areas can apply for a $2000 grant to retrain for a new certificate in hard to fill disciplines.

Under the program, you as the teacher can spend the funds anyway you see fit as long as it is “high quality professional development” at an in-state school, both private and public, and on either graduate or undergraduate courses or noncredit courses (e.g. Continuing Education at ASU). As a recipient of the grant, the teacher agrees to keep teaching in Arizona for an additional 3 years and document with the ADE as soon as they attain additional credentials. You can use the funds almost like an account. So, for instance, if you needed to take 2 classes, one for $300 in fall and then another for $1700 in the summer, you could do that. The program will pay your tuition directly to the approved institutions.

When the program was in the development stages, it became clear that in order to really get a good grip on new content, a teacher would need at least 3 additional classes to get comfortable with the material. I say this as the bare minimum in most cases. We knew $2000 would not nearly cover this, however the idea here is to meet teachers part way in getting started.

Now that the program has been given a green light, the ADE is putting together an application form that will get distributed by August. Awardees will be selected on their hard to fill areas they are attempting to seek certification for, and a statement of need. ( http://www.azed.gov/hetl/pd-pilot-program/)

If you are in a rural AZ school, this is an outstanding opportunity to get some of your folks professional development and help fill in some missing gaps in the STEM schedule.

Luckily for us, it just so happens that Arizona State University has one of the best physics teacher professional development programs in the world, with students from every corner of the globe coming to learn how to be more effective STEM teachers. The ASU Modeling Instruction program is credited as being one of the best, and has re-trained many physics and chemistry teachers from biology and other sciences. A SB1038 grant would cover a 3-credit summer graduate class or up to 5 non-credit (continuing education) ASU classes.

The best part of the program is that you can seek additional training from the schools of your choice, and what works best for you. The end game is that you as the teacher reach an additional certification in a STEM subject different than what you already have. More folks qualified in subjects like physics and chemistry is a win for Arizona students.

We have only 160 physics teachers still in the field teaching in Arizona High Schools. This program is specifically targeting folks already in the field who want to make a difference on their campuses. If we can get even a few dozen new folks into these fields it will make a huge difference. Already there are entire communities in our state where students no longer have access to higher level STEM classes. These classes are critical for promoting the newest generation of STEM majors and production of a mathematically adept and robust workforce.  If we want our state to succeed economically and technologically, then programs like this pilot program need to succeed in getting kids access to more science and math.

 

Michael Vargas

Phoenix, Arizona

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I received my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I also hold graduate degrees and certificates from Trident University International and the University of San Diego. I have served as the boy’s head basketball coach and physics teacher at Supreme Headquarter Allied Powers Europe in Mons Belgium from 2001 to 2012. During this time period, I lead our track and basketball teams to multiple European Championships.
Working at NATO’s Headquarters allowed me the opportunity to work with several national military representatives including multiple years teaching science to Norwegian and Canadian sections as well as the American HS and middle school sections. I have taught several subjects including Physics, Physics Applications, Astronomy, Earth and Space Science, 8th grade Canadian Science and World History. I am a member of STEM Teachers Phoenix and I work closely with the Arizona State University Physics Instructional Modeling Program. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years.

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