When the University of Georgia opened its Science Learning Center in 2016, it found itself with 122,000 square feet of innovative lab space—but no guidelines for instructors on how to use it.
Enter Julie Luft, Athletic Association Professor of Mathematics and Science Education in the UGA College of Education, who is passionate about educating future science teachers and also about the art of teaching scientific topics. She wants science teaching to be fun and engaging, and as a result she also was tapped to help faculty at UGA make the most out of the gleaming new space.
"We've been following about 30 faculty members while they've been engaging in different professional development programs and watching how they change their teaching," said Luft, who also co-wrote a guide to creating active learning environments within the new Science Learning Center. "We're doing research on the work here to help think about how we can better provide professional development for STEM faculty so they can teach their undergraduate classes better."
This collaborative project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is one of several studies Luft is involved with. Her work connects best practices for teaching future teachers with the issues they face once they leave the university environment. She also connects with graduate students who want to work in a university environment, helping them to understand the best ways to deliver content.
"They get into my class as teaching assistants, and they're trying to help modify their curriculum to think about how they can teach differently too," she says. "The class isn't only teaching teachers, it's also helping people who are going to be future teachers of science to try and think about how they're packaging their content for students to learn. So it's multiple layers."
Luft is also passionate about what happens when students graduate and begin their first teaching job. This is a critical point in their career since half of all new teachers in science and mathematics leave within their first five years. A problem plaguing new teachers is out-of-field teaching, or teaching in a content area in which they were not trained.
"We have to think better about how we prepare our new teachers more efficiently so they can be more effective in their first years," says Luft, who is part of an international collective of researchers studying the global issue of out-of-field teaching. This research and more work from Luft may be found on the website ResearchGate.net.
"That's the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night," she adds, "and gets me up in the morning."
Related links: Department of Mathematics and Science Education