The Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, commonly referred to as AMSTI, is the Alabama Department of Education’s initiative to improve math and science teaching statewide. Its mission is to provide all students in Grades K-12 with the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workforce and/or postsecondary studies.
Having been thoroughly studied by external evaluators since 2002, AMSTI is able to make the rare claim that on every standardized test given by the SDE, AMSTI Schools outscore matched nonAMSTI Schools, often dramatically. In addition, the initiative is greatly changing the way students view math and science. These subjects often go from those least liked by students to their favorites. Such attitudinal changes must occur if more students are to pursue math and science related careers. With the excitement of AMSTI, students will select more math and science courses during their educational career, and choose courses that are more academically rigorous.
AMSTI has received both national and international attention for its effectiveness at raising achievement scores, improving student interest in math and science. As the largest and most comprehensive math and science initiative in the nation, AMSTI has become the leading model for math and science education reform. Fortune 500 CEOs selected AMSTI as one of only 35 “programs that work” from across the nation. AMSTI’s effectiveness and accomplishments have been highlighted by the National Governor’s Association, The Smithsonian-National Science Resource Center, the National Council of State Legislators, Education Week, Science Generation: A National Imperative at the American Museum of Natural History Summit and others. Negotiations are currently underway with the National Education Report hosted with Emmy award winner Hugh Downs from 20/20 to produce a documentary on AMSTI highlighting how it is leading the way in reforming math and science instruction. The program will be shown to over 100 million viewers in 127 countries. A two minute interstitial commercial will also run 400 times on leading networks such as MSNBC, Fox News, the Learning Channel and others.
The premise behind AMSTI is that students learn math and science best by doing math and science, especially when they are able to relate it to their daily lives. Schools apply to become official AMSTI Schools and, when accepted, agree to send all of their math and science teachers and administrators to two-week long Summer Institutes for two consecutive years. At the elementary level, where most teachers are self-contained (teaching all subjects), entire faculties attend the institutes. AMSTI Schools proudly display AMSTI banners letting the community know that the school participates in the initiative and that their teachers are “AMSTI certified.”
Each AMSTI teacher receives 120 contact hours of subject and grade specific professional development during the Summer Institutes. This means, for instance, that a seventh-grade science teacher is in a classroom with only other seventh-grade science teachers learning specifically what needs to be taught and how to teach it to help the students master the seventh-grade content standards. Teachers conduct all of the hands-on activities they will eventually perform with their students at the institutes. Then, upon returning to their school, they receive all of the equipment and materials needed to engage their students in hands-on, activity-based instruction. Equipment ranges from plastic cups and cotton balls to cutting edge technology like spectrophotometers, DNA replicators; gel electrophoresis equipment, graphing calculators, GPS devices, nuclear scalars, etc. The resources are often delivered to the school in unit tubs referred to as “kits.” As the kits remain at the school only when needed, they can be rotated for use by multiple teachers and schools, making excellent use of fiscal resources.
Following Summer Institutes, full-time AMSTI math and science specialists from the 11 regional AMSTI Sites mentor the teachers in their classrooms until the newly trained teachers become comfortable with the “AMSTI way” of teaching. Classroom teachers say this support is invaluable in helping them become proficient with AMSTI. Each AMSTI Site also runs a large Materials Refurbishment Center where all of the kits from the region are refurbished to “like new” condition before being sent to the next teacher.
Because equipment and materials must be delivered, and because AMSTI specialists must be located so as to be able to visit teacher classrooms, the state has been divided into 11 regions, with an AMSTI site within each region servicing the local schools. Each AMSTI site is staffed by a director, math and science specialists, materials manager and materials staff. AMSTI Sites resemble large warehouses where used kits are refurbished to like new condition before being sent back out to teachers. Each AMSTI site is responsible for conducting the Summer Institutes for newly accepted schools within the region and training any new hires at existing AMSTI Schools. Each AMSTI site is partnered with an institute of higher education (university/college). This partnership facilitates the involvement of university faculty with K-12 teachers.
While AMSTI is often described as providing three key services---professional development, equipment and materials, and on-site support---these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the depth and complexity of all that the initiative encompasses. For example, all AMSTI Schools have designated math and science Lead Teachers that receive additional training, allowing them to assist other teachers when AMSTI specialists are not at the school. All AMSTI Schools also have an AMSTI School Implementation Team that works to ensure the initiative is being successfully implemented. Teachers within each school organized into Learning Teams that meet to share ideas and ensure all teachers continue to grow professionally. AMSTI Site specialists and directors also provide teachers and administrators additional professional development during the school year. Following completion of the two Summer Institutes, AMSTI directors and specialists work with the teachers and administrators to direct them into AMSTI Affiliate Programs (i.e. other professional development opportunities that the initiative has evaluated and determined to be of substantial value). AMSTI also maintains a detailed website that provides teachers many resources and helps connect them to others across the AMSTI community.
School participation in AMSTI is voluntary. As AMSTI is funded from a state line item in the education budget, there is no direct cost to the teacher, school, or school district for participation in AMSTI. All services, including the equipment and materials, are provided free of charge, as long as a school remains an AMSTI School.
The Alabama Department of Education’s AMSTI section oversees the operation of the initiative statewide; ensuring that the quality of the program is high and consistent across the state. It certifies trainers to teach at the Summer Institutes (650 trainers were needed just in 2008), sets the curricula and activities to be taught, and provides oversight support to each AMSTI site. Currently 40% of Alabama’s schools are official AMSTI Schools. With many schools waiting to join, funding is the limiting factor in expanding the initiative to every school in the state. Total funding (all sources) for AMSTI in 2009 is $46 million.
For more information:
Dr. Sandy Ledwell, AMSTI Science Coordinator
Mr. Tod Beers, AMSTI Math Coordinator
Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative
Alabama Department of Education
50 North Ripley Street
Montgomery , AL 36104