STEM research from SMRC
In addition to developing and disseminating educator professional development and STEM programs for youth, the Science Math Resource Center takes part in educational research surrounding STEM. Below are some of our recent publications, presentations and projects.
- Montana data (our sources)
- Montana data (other sources)
- National data
- SMRC publications and presentations
- Grant-writing tips
As part of the Education-Outreach-Diversity team for Montana NSF EPSCoR, SMRC seeks to advance the program’s goal of building competitiveness in Montana science and engineering research and development.
This report is an encapsulation of the professional development needs and interests of Montana K-12 educators, with a particular emphasis on teachers of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We believe these findings provide a unique opportunity for Montana University System researchers and others with access to STEM resources to strategize on how those resources can be shared with the K-12 education community, thus advancing the broader impacts of our research. Findings in this report can also offer insights to school administrators, other professional development providers, and agencies that support classroom teachers.
(full content also listed below; this is an alternative PDF download)
One-pager: Working with Montana rural K-12 classrooms and out-of-school / informal education settings (citable tips for researchers)
Some rural education data points
- In Montana, 75% of K-12 schools are rural, the highest proportion among U.S. states.
- Montana has more one-room schoolhouses than any other state
- In many rural districts, one educator teaches MANY classes, often multi-grade (plus they coach sports and lead extracurriculars....and maybe drive the bus, make school lunches, etc.)
- For 85% of rural elementary school children, their daily one-way bus ride exceeds the recommended time of 30 minutes*. Children from higher-poverty rural schools experience more mileage on unpaved roads and over mountainous terrain.
*Bus ride research reflects national demographics but is not specific to Montana
Why should we use our research impact opportunities to support rural youth and communities?
- Youth in rural communities have fewer opportunities for high-quality STEM learning than their peers in urban and suburban areas. (classes, school extracurriculars, out-of-school time opportunities, etc.)
- A statewide teaching shortage has exacerbated existing conditions; the more rural the school, the more difficult the challenge.
- Rural people who pursue STEM education have limited opportunities to pursue relevant careers in their home communities and often must leave home to establish a new career.
- Prolonged impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have further amplified social, educational and health inequities in rural communities.
- Challenges can loom larger for girls and women; minorities; people with disabilities or special needs; people without a lot of money; and First Generation college students.
Montana educator needs assessment1
Montana educators are eager to expand their skills through professional development (PD); however, high-quality PD is not always readily available, particularly in rural areas.
Biggest barriers to PD participation are:
- Availability of substitute teachers
- Having to pay out of pocket to attend
- Not enough time off from work
- Significant travel distances
- Lack of resources (books, materials for experiments, etc.)
- Technology (some schools do not have continuous access to high-speed Internet)
Teachers want to connect with university researchers!
- 81% of teachers (all subjects, all grades) are interested in resources related to university research
- Top need: Researchers travel to their school to interact directly with students (especially important for rural educators)
- Most teachers said they were interested in having access to contemporary data sets used by researchers
Most useful formats:
- Curated lessons plans providing examples of how the data sets can be used and how they align with Montana standards
- Examples of how data sets can be used to tackle real-world issues
- Professional development designed to stimulate how data sets can be used in the classroom
Quotes from teachers
- “Rural focused information would be nice. We often attend workshops where our needs are significantly different than those science teachers who teach only one discipline.”
- “Planning for a substitute is typically done on our own time and takes far longer than the actual lesson.”
- “Most teachers do not want to use personal days to take time off school to attend PD.”
- “I do not have a car for traveling beyond my town. I do not have funds …for purchasing equipment.”
- Teachers who participate in MSU programs would like to present about them at their own professional conferences but don’t have funds to travel/register
- Teachers also need financial support to interact with their professional associations
Key challenges and barriers (2019)
- Lack of industry-education connections
- Need for more statewide coordination
- Insufficient funding, staff and other resources
Key challenges and barriers (2022)
- Rebounding from COVID-19
- Changing demographics in Montana
- Misperceptions of STEM
- Insufficient funding, staffing and other resources
Montana STEM Summit: Gaps
Some gaps identified (2022) included:
- To better serve Native American students and communities
- To include more parents, teachers, administrators, and retired individuals who want to support in-school and out-of-school-time programming
- More ways to relate STEM to the natural environment, especially with Montana’s access to natural resources and the outdoors
- More opportunities to include art in STEM to make STEAM
- Ways to help others recognize the importance of STEM
- Time: Students are interested in STEM, but there is often not enough time in the school day
- To help educators who recognize the importance of STEM but sometimes don’t know how to get started.
Montana STEM Summits: Rural
“Rural educators are often masters at utilizing community businesses, organizations and natural landscapes — their creativity and commitment deserves recognition.”
- Unfortunately, they often lack resources that are available in more densely populated areas of the state
- Rural youth are less likely to interact with industry role models who can help them visualize themselves in a STEM career
- Limited transportation is one of the largest barriers; very few communities offer a “late bus” that supports participation in afterschool activities
Montana STEM Summits: Dreaming Big
What do STEM educators wish for?
- More staff and more pay for staff
- Paid Professional Development (PD) for staff; more time for PD
- Resources, kits, materials
- Work with people in the community to provide more programming
- Extra funds to create workshops for parents/educators to learn firsthand the value of STEAM education.
- Add additional STEM courses for younger students
- More specialty courses for K-12 students
- More programs for Indigenous students
- Statewide list of resources for funding and mentors
- Connect STEM and Agriculture
- Connect STEM education/outreach to potential careers
As a rural state, Montana is unique among all states particularly when it comes to education. The Rural School and Community Trust (RSCT) has been producing their Why Rural Matters every two years since 2009. From their latest report, Montana has the highest percentage of rural schools (74.0%) and the highest percentage of rural school districts (95.3%).
See how Montana and other states compare for teacher rates.
The National Science Board's Elementary and Secondary STEM Education Report focused on quantifying the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on K-12 student progress. (October 2023)
Taylor, S., Chipps, J., & Jabot, M. (2022). Bring Kites to your STEM Classroom with NASA AREN. In J. Herron & R. Hammack, (Eds.). Proceedings of the 121st annual convention of the School Science and Mathematics Association (Vol. 9). Missoula, MT: SSMA.
- Be creative with your partnerships: Extension agents and research stations; libraries; small town businesses (bank? Funeral home? Ag implement store?); agencies with a presence in rural areas (Forest Service, BLM, Fish Wildlife Parks etc.)
- Be as specific as possible — name the school, organization or partner
- Ask your partner(s) what THEY need. How does it dovetail with what you can offer? Make sure your budget reflects what you say you will do.
1Meyerink, M. and S. Taylor. 2021. Montana Educator Needs Assessment. MSU Science Math Resource Center. https://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/handle/1/16458*
2Taylor, S. and S. Olson. 2022. Montana STEM Summit 2022 Report: Accessing STEM Learning Across the Big Sky. MSU Science Math Resource Center and Montana Afterschool Alliance. http://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/handle/1/17340*
3Taylor, S. and L. Bishop. 2020. STEM Summit 2019 Report: Expanding STEM Learning Across the Big Sky. MSU Science Math Resource Center and Montana Afterschool Alliance. https://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/handle/1/15854*
*Data collection and reporting supported by Montana NSF EPSCoR. This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement OIA-1757351. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.