RES, Red Bay schools join state math, science initiative
by Kadin Pounders for the FCT
Teachers and faculty from nine schools gathered in the Russellville High School auditorium June 2 for the opening Alabama Math and Science Teacher Initiative training session.
AMSTI, a program started by the Alabama Department of Education, partners schools with college universities in an effort to provide teachers with better and more effective professional development skills, materials, equipment and support. This includes sending former teachers certified as AMSTI specialists to teachers during the school year to provide any support they may need.
“Our goal is to change the face of math and science instruction,” said AMSTI site director Shannon Uptain. “We want students to enjoy science, and we want them to love science.”
For teachers at Russellville Elementary School and Red Bay schools, the training sessions will be a new experience.
“(Russellville) Middle School has been a part of AMSTI for several years, but this will be the first year that Russellville Elementary has gone through AMSTI,” said Russellville Elementary assistant principal Natalie Bendall. “(The teachers) are excited to learn new strategies to reach students and help them.”
This is also the first year for Red Bay as an AMSTI school.
The teachers that join in the AMSTI program give up about two weeks of their summer to participate in training sessions that put the teacher in the place of the student in the classroom.
“We feel like it’s important for teachers to experience the lessons like they will during the year,” said Uptain. “We actually teach them the lessons like they’ll teach to their students so they get to experience any problems, any issues, any concerns, and we’ve found with that training it helps them to be more successful.”
AMSTI splits the state up into 11 regions, each region belonging to a college or university. Region 1 is made up of Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Marion, Walker and Winston counties and is coordinated by the University of North Alabama. The university pays the teachers in attendance a stipend to help offset the cost of attendance.
Some materials or equipment that students use in the classroom would not be available without help from AMSTI.
“Each teacher receives somewhere between a $1,000-$3,000 worth of material for free,” said Uptain. “Materials are so expensive – $2,000-3,000, a classroom teacher can’t afford.”
For a school to become an official member of AMSTI, the school has to send all of its math and science teachers to two week sessions for two summers.
“Eighty percent of teachers have to agree to participate in the program before they can be accepted as an AMSTI school,” said Uptain.
According to AMSTI and the Alabama Department of Education, multiple studies – including one done by the United States Department of Education – have shown that AMSTI is highly effective in increasing student performance on math, science, and reading portions of standardized testing.
“I think our teachers have seen the need (to join AMSTI), especially with new testing coming out,” said Red Bay principal Kenny Sparks.
In an ever-changing classroom environment learning new teaching strategies is vital, said Sparks.
“You can’t just sit there 50 minutes and lecture anymore. That doesn’t work. Having a diversified way of lecturing is a definite improvement for us,” he said. “You have to have a variety of ways to get (information) across.”
Despite the reported effectiveness of AMSTI, funding for the initiative has been drastically cut by state legislature since 2008 from over 40 million dollars to less than 30 million dollars.
Cost efficiency is a huge goal for AMSTI, said Uptain.
“What we do is we buy the kit, and the teacher uses it the first half of the year. They send that back to us, and we restock it like it’s new and send it to another teacher. We can get up to four teachers off one kit,” he said.
Because of the funding cuts, AMSTI growth has slowed but has not stopped.
“We’ve not grown as much the last few years, but we’re slowly trying to add schools as much as we can,” said Uptain. “When we were fully funded, we were training about 400-500 teachers a year. Now we’re training about 100-180.”
There are more than 300 schools on the waiting list to become AMSTI schools.