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Florida State center receives $2.1 million to improve math, science education

A Florida State University research center devoted to improving education in the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has received grants totaling $2.1 million to help state educators better teach these subjects.

The Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (FCR-STEM) has received $2 million from the Florida Department of Education to continue several successful projects that provide professional development and online curriculum tools for state educators.

Laura Lang
Sir Harold W. Kroto

The center, operated jointly by the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education and the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State, also received $95,000 from Workforce Florida Inc. through the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. With this grant, FCR-STEM will lead the creation of a plan to support STEM development in the state in order to meet the growing need for workers competent in these subjects.

As state and national debates on education and economic development heat up and converge, STEM has become a hot topic and an increasingly common acronym. President Barack Obama announced a $250 million public-private initiative to recruit and train more STEM teachers; the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Fund grants competition is giving special consideration to proposals featuring STEM initiatives; and business leaders and policymakers warn that the economy will suffer if the work force can't keep up with the demand for STEM-related jobs.

"Unfortunately, test scores and other indicators tell us that Florida and the U.S. are lagging behind in STEM education," said Laura Lang, director of the Learning Systems Institute, an associate professor in the College of Education and lead investigator on the recently awarded grants. "The research and technical assistance enabled by these funds will help us research, plan and carry out steps that will move us ahead."

Recognizing the urgency of the issue, the Florida Legislature created and funded FCR-STEM in 2007. Although a shrinking state budget forced a temporary halt to the center's core funding last year, FCR-STEM has continued its activities with the more than $9 million in federal and private funding it has attracted.

Sir Harold W. "Harry" Kroto, a Francis Eppes Professor in Florida State's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, directs FCR-STEM.

"Knowledge in the STEM fields is advancing at an incredible pace, and our society and economy have to keep up," said Kroto, co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry. "STEM research is critical to help students, teachers and businesses remain competitive."

The Department of Education grant supplements $4 million in previous years' funding and will allow FCR-STEM to continue several existing projects for Florida educators, including summer institutes that deepen knowledge and skills related to state math and science standards; a professional development program focusing on math and science content for school principals and teacher leaders; and an interactive, Web-based system known as CPALMS that integrates new science and math standards into curriculum and instruction.

"It is no exaggeration to say that several thousand teachers, students and other stakeholders have already benefited from the products and progress achieved by the previous grants," said Joseph Travis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "The additional funding will help us significantly deepen and broaden the impact FCR-STEM has already had."

"Knowledge in the STEM fields is advancing at an incredible pace, and our society and economy have to keep up."

Sir Harold W. Kroto
Florida State University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry