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Grant funds innovation in teacher education

New program provides funding for three projects working to improve STEM education.
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A committee of MIT faculty and staff, along with representatives from the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, selected three proposals to fund.
A committee of MIT faculty and staff, along with representatives from the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, selected three proposals to fund.
Photo: Bio Builder

The Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants (TLIG) program provides seed funding for MIT community members to bring new ideas for STEM teaching and teacher education to life. The program, funded by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and administered by the MIT Teaching Systems Lab (TSL), supports projects with the potential to make a significant impact on teacher education. The goals of the research program are to transform STEM teacher education nationally and globally and to provide new insights and thinking for the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, a new, independent, competency-based teacher education program.

In this first year, the TLIG program allocated $250,000 to support three ambitious proposals:

  • "Just The Facts: Synthetic biology for co-evolution of master teachers and a BioBuilder curriculum" (Natalie Kuldell), a proposal to design and disseminate a unique teacher-informed evolutionary biology curriculum, using real-world synthetic biology experiments;
  • "Informal Science Education For Learners, Parents, and Educators" (Laura Schulz), a research program to introduce children and their parents to scientific inquiry and leverage early science learning in an informal, media-based format; and
  • "Interest-Based Pathways into Coding: Developing Strategies and Materials to Help Teachers Engage a Broader Range of Students in Computational Thinking" (Mitchel Resnick), a program to develop new learning materials and workshops to help teachers support interest-based approaches to coding, providing students with opportunities to learn computational concepts and skills by working on projects related to their personal interests.

In this inaugural year, the TLIG program received 16 applications from schools and departments across MIT. “The quality of the proposals was exceptional, and it’s exciting to see the incredible research potential in PK-12 learning across MIT,” said Justin Reich, executive director of TSL. “From building cutting edge STEM curriculum to finding new applications for technology in teaching and learning, these projects continue a long tradition at MIT of innovation in PK-12 education.”

A committee of MIT faculty and staff, along with representatives from the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, selected the three proposals to fund. Among the reviewers was John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and founding director of the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili). “One of the central goals of the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative is to build strong connections between foundational research in science and applications to practice,” said Gabrieli, “and the recipients of the inaugural Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants offer powerful exemplars of this approach.”

The MIT TSL will provide funding support for these projects and an opportunity to build community across these diverse PK-12 initiatives. The Woodrow Wilson Academy will provide access to schools through district partners so that new innovations can be tested and co-designed with students and practicing educators. “Cutting-edge research is going to be central to the development of our new teacher preparation program,” said Deborah Hirsch, executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, “and we look forward to building connections between MIT researchers and our partner educators to advance research into effective teaching and learning.” 

These projects represent some of MIT’s extraordinary ideas for innovation in teacher education. TSL will support this research into the horizons of STEM teaching and use the results to inform the Woodrow Wilson Academy’s efforts to prepare teachers for the classroom. “I believe these projects will help transform teacher education, and we are excited to be working with the Woodrow Wilson Academy to rethink and redesign how we prepare teachers for the classroom,” said Reich. “This new grant program showcases the incredible untapped potential at MIT, and the passion that our faculty and research staff have for improving teaching and learning in schools.”

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