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Whether their classes cover topics that are earth-based or out of this world, science teachers now can reach for the stars through a new master’s program.

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s College of Education and Human Services and the College of Letters and Science have teamed up with Space Education Initiatives of De Pere to improve science teaching throughout the state. The Master of Science in Education (MSE) in Secondary Science Education program was launched in fall 2007.

“One of our goals is to expose teachers to the modeling method of instruction, which is a particular way to get the students in the teachers’ classrooms to engage science content the way a scientist would,” said Mark Lattery, UW Oshkosh associate professor of physics.

Teachers in this innovative program will strengthen their content knowledge, hone their teaching skills and become familiar with the latest computer-based classroom technology. Courses are offered during the school year as well as during the summer in order to accommodate the schedules of educators.

The MSE program meets state and national content and professional development standards. Most courses are offered online or in a blended format that combines online and in-classroom experiences.

To complete the degree, teachers must complete 30 credits, including 15 in the College of Education and Human Services. Teachers have the option of choosing between a focus on physics and physical science or earth and space science, which comprise the other 15 credits.

Earning an MSE benefits both the teacher and his or her future students. The advanced degree is a viable avenue in professional development. As for the students, research suggests that a teacher’s subject-matter knowledge is one of the most important elements of teacher quality.

One statistic indicates that 46 percent of students in physical science classes received instruction from teachers who did not have a major or minor in these subjects.

“Nationally, there are a lot of teachers who are undertrained in what they are doing,” said Jason Marcks, executive director of Space Education Initiatives, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to engaging students in science, math and technology through programs that focus on space exploration.

Space Education Initiatives offers stand-alone, online courses as well as workshops. Some courses have been provided in conjunction with UW-Green Bay, but UW Oshkosh is the only university with whom the Space Education Initiatives plans to partner.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide the professional development for teachers,” said Marcks. “The MSE program allows us to extend our reach quite dramatically by delivering these courses online to a national audience and by being affiliated with a master’s program at an accredited university like UW Oshkosh.”

Ten to 20 teachers are expected to enroll in the content courses being offered this summer.

“We’re really excited about this program. It’s a new way for the University to connect with the community,” Lattery said.

“We want to improve the quality of science teaching throughout Wisconsin, and that serves the community on a lot of different levels. When we have students who are more scientifically literate, it helps them with the decisions they make as an adult. It also helps professional scientists who develop new technology.”

For more information about the MSE program, visit www.phys.uwosh.edu/lattery/mse/mse.htm.

For more information about Space Education Initiatives, visit www.spaceedu.org.

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