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 Educator Needs Assessment

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.

View the full report

Download a one-pager (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


Montana STEM Summits 20234, 20222 and 20193

Key challenges and barriers (2022)

  • Rebounding from COVID-19
  • Changing demographics in Montana
  • Misperceptions of STEM
  • Insufficient funding, staffing and other resources

Key challenges and barriers (2019)

  • Transportation
  • Lack of industry-education connections
  • Need for more statewide coordination
  • Insufficient funding, staff and other resources

Montana STEM Summit: Gaps

Some gaps identified (2022) included:

We need…

  • 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

Montana Data

Montana Rural Education Association

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%).

Teacher pay rates

See how Montana and other states compare for teacher rates.

National data

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)

From Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation: Voices of Gen Z - Perspectves on STEM and STEM Education.This report discovers that a majority of Gen Z express interest in STEM careers, but far fewer say they intend to pursue them. Gen Z members are also learning about STEM careers in school, but not enough about foundational STEM concepts. (December 2023)

SMRC publications and presentations

Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project: A Toolkit for Broadening STEM Participation, Building Networks, and Bridging Education and Research

March 2024: An article written by the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (SMRC is the education lead) was selected for publication in a special issue of the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (BAAS).

NEBP is a student-centered and team-based STEM initiative that leverages the October 14, 2023 annular eclipse and April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse for authentic learning opportunities. Its nationwide fractal network establishes multidirectional communication, enabling the program to meet its goals and objectives. The NEBP has the potential to serve as a scalable model for similar STEM- and NASA-related initiatives. To share the project model and associated lessons with other interested STEM leaders, we have formatted this article as an “NEBP toolkit” that describes our approach to building capacity in NASA-mission-like hands-on experiences through a targeted STEM network (in this case, around scientific ballooning), broadening student participation, establishing a leadership model, and integrating diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility (DEIA) practices.

Culturally Responsive Energy Engineering Education: Campus-Based Research Experience for Reservation and Rural Elementary Educators

Feb. 2024: An article written by the MSU Research Experience for Teachers team has been published in the Journal of STEM Outreach. Authors are Nick Lux (Education, MSU), Becky Hammack (Education, Purdue, formerly MSU), Paul Gannon (Engineering, MSU), Sweeney Windchief (Education, MSU), Suzi Taylor (Science Math Resource Center, MSU), Abigail Richards (Engineering, MSU) and Douglas Hacker (Educational Pyschology, University of Utah).

The article was written after the Year 1 RET, and indicates that the participating teachers showed significant gains in personal teaching efficacy beliefs in science and engineering;felt more comfortable teaching engineering after completing the program; and increased theircapacities to teach engineering and integrate culturally responsive practices.Vol 7, Issue 2, Feb. 1, 2024.

Bring Kites to Your Classroom with NASA AREN - published in SSMA conference proceedings

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.

What next? (Grant-writing tips for researchers)

  • 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.*

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.*

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.*

4Taylor, S. and H. Jameson. 2023. STEM Summit 2023 Report: Growing STEM Learning Across the Big Sky. MSU Science Math Resource Center and Montana Afterschool Alliance.

*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.