KU leading project to bring coaching to teachers of math and science in special education

LAWRENCE — It’s not easy to go from teaching high school math and physics to teaching kindergarten special education. Yet that kind of movement in the teaching career is more common than one might realize. Even teachers who stay in one field may need to refine their skills in targeted areas, so researchers at the University of Kansas are leading a project to bring coaching to educators who teach math and science to students in special education classes.

The FLITE: STEM Coaching project in its third year is providing free coaching, tools and evidence-based practices to educators in a way that allows them to record and evaluate teaching performances easily. The project is named for the Flexible Learning Through Innovation in Technology and Education, a research center at KU led by Lisa Dieker, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor in Special Education.

“When you go to the doctor, they don’t say, 'Well, you look good. Have a good day.’ They ask questions. They take a look at you as an individual and run tests. That’s what we want to do with coaches who support teachers by allowing them to help developing teachers take a look at their practices in working with students with disabilities in STEM areas so they can be their best,” Dieker said. “With the amount of stress on teachers, we want to be helpful and give them what they need in a timely and personalized fashion.”

One component of the FLITE: STEM Coaching project is the coaching model. The model supports employees within a school or district as coaches for educators teaching math and science to students in special education. Coaches can then work with teachers to improve their existing skills and learn research-backed best practices for effectively teaching students in this population.

A second component of the project gives coaches and teachers the technology to videotape a session teaching their students. Known as the observational dashboard, this component features tagging software developed by Charles Hughes of the University of Central Florida, co-principal investigator of the project, which allows coaches to tag instances of a practice they are working on.

“With the tagging software, you could say, for example, ‘Look, you asked open-ended questions five times’ without having to rewind or fast-forward the video observation,” Dieker said. “Coaches working with teachers also can set goals and say, ‘let’s try to get to seven times.’”

The project’s third component provides a resource library of research-backed best practices in special education and STEM teaching. The Suite of Resources gives teachers and coaches materials to help retool skills needing improvement. The dashboard contains general best practices and specific approaches to meet individual STEM students' needs.

The dashboard also has a collection of resources from academia and beyond to serve teachers and coaches. News articles, journal articles, videos, podcasts and more all feature information on the best teaching practices to support students with disabilities in STEM areas.

“We’re using already created national resources. If it’s not out there, we’re creating it,” Dieker said. “We want to share the best available resources and add on to what is available in this limited area as well. We’ve also vetted all material in our database, and in the future, we will make it so the first resource that pops up in a category is the most recommended one by people who have used it.”

FLITE: STEM Coaching’s Observational Dashboard continues to be developed and refined. One advantage is the tool already addresses a major privacy concern. All video teachers and coaches create stays with them, not with the researchers or outside parties. Dieker said that similar services in use at universities cost thousands of dollars per year, and video content is often kept by a third party. With this project the video and tags stay with the user, and the tool is web-based so nothing is downloaded or private data shared.

The team is also moving into new frontiers as the researchers continue to test and implement biometric features for FLITE: STEM Coaching. The Observational Dashboard will eventually be able to feature eye-tracking and facial-tracking features to help coaches and teachers determine where they are focusing their attention. The dashboard already allows a teacher if they want to monitor their heart rate, respiration and other biometric factors to determine potential areas of stress within their teaching. This information also stays with the teacher. 

Now approaching year three of a five-year, $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education Stepping Up Grant, the FLITE: STEM Coaching project is working with urban and rural schools in several states and the Maryland Department of Education to develop and refine the project components. Researchers work to prepare coaches at one school, which then grows to other schools in a district, eventually creating a sustainable model for schools to continue on their own. 

Tue, 04/09/2024


Mike Krings

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