RITES at RIC – educating for a better future

On the second floor of the Henry Barnard School on the RIC campus are a series of rooms with STEM printed on the door signs. While these unassuming rooms seem to be tucked out of the way, the work that goes on inside them could have a profound impact on the entire state.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These rooms are where both in-service and pre-service educators are being trained to improve basic understanding of how to teach science and mathematics, areas that testing indicates Rhode Island has historically struggled with.

The Rhode Island STEM Center at Rhode Island College aims to improve education for pre-service teachers through creative initiatives, cutting edge technologies, and most of all, educational collaborations across the state.

In-service educators attend a RITES professional development
course in the summer of 2010.
A major collaborator with the R.I. STEM Center is the R.I. Technology Enhanced Sciences, or RITES, project. RITES provides professional development for both pre- and in-service teachers, promotes student achievement, and creates structural systems designed to foster community between the higher education and middle- and secondary-school cultures.

The RITES project is based at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. The project is funded by a five-year, $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the largest grant of this type ever awarded in Rhode Island. The proposal was one of 23 selected out of a pool of over 180 applications, and was the largest award granted in 2008.

“Our goal is to improve science teaching and learning in high schools and middle schools in Rhode Island by creating partnerships between higher education and K-12,” said Howard Dooley, RITES project manager.

A professor lectures in a STEM classroom.
“The purpose of the professional development is to deepen knowledge around the topics that are common problem areas in the classroom,” said Dooley. “Understanding these key concepts and removing common misconceptions is key to the development of higher teaching standards. We are helping teachers learn what the good science is behind those misconceptions and how to communicate that to their students.”

According to Dooley, professional development programs are a priority for RITES because they have been proven to improve teaching and learning in the past. RITES conducts summer development programs at both URI and RIC.

One hundred and sixty-five teachers attended the sessions from 11 school districts last summer. Teachers take three courses over two and a half weeks, and then throughout the year they collaborate with RITES to help them take the material from theory to the classroom.

According to Dooley, building an infrastructure has been a priority for RITES during the first phase of the funding. “We really are striving to create partnerships so that, even if we don’t get refunded at the end of five years, there will be a partnership at the higher education level and a community at the district level that will continue on.”

A RITES lecture on teaching scientific inquiry.
The long-term goals of the RITES project include more students choosing science oriented career paths and more literacy around scientific issues, such as evolution and global warming.

The RITES project comes at a critical time for education in Rhode Island. The state’s new education commissioner, Deborah Gist, is touting an aggressive agenda of change statewide, and Rhode Island was awarded a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant so the administration could continue that agenda.

For a college like RIC, which is historically rooted in teacher training, projects like RITES are a natural extension of one of the college’s missions – to provide the best education for educators.