The national interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has called attention to P-12 education, the STEM pipeline. Education of teachers is a primary influence on the education of children in the classroom. While high school (and often middle school) teachers are versed in the content of a particular aspect of STEM (e.g. Mathematics or Chemistry), elementary teachers, on the other end of the pipeline, are educated as generalists, with a primary goal of setting the foundations for future learning.
In 2004, a team of STEM and education faculty at St. Catherine University (SCU) was called together, united by their interest in improving STEM education for all students at SCU, particularly women. Combining the content expertise of the biology, chemistry, physics/engineering, and mathematics departments with the methods expertise of the education department, the team designed courses that made STEM concepts more engaging and relevant to students. In 2010, the STEM Certificate was solidified and required of all elementary education students. It is comprised of three interdisciplinary, team-taught, lab based courses that are open to all undergraduate majors at the institution. Each course is centered on one discipline (i.e. biology, chemistry, or engineering/physics). Chemistry of Life is the chemistry-focused course. The course was designed to include a capstone project. As an introduction to materials science, nanoscience was selected as the theme for the projects. The topic allowed for socially relevant and also highly interdisciplinary projects. Students working in teams of three or four, designed projects, determined how to measure and obtain data, and analyzed and interpreted results. A content and confidence assessment given to students before and after the projects showed an increase in both their understanding of nanomaterials and their confidence in conducting a nanoscience project.