The University of Texas at Austin is starting a $2.38 million initiative to train eighth through 12th grade earth science teachers working predominantly in minority or underserved public schools in Texas.
The initiative, the TeXas Earth and Space Science Revolution (TXESS Revolution), aims to restore the state’s capacity to teach earth and space science following the Texas State Board of Education’s 1998 decision to remove the subject as an option for credit towards high school graduation. The board restored an earth and space science option in 2006, but by then fewer teachers around the state were qualified to teach the subject.
“Teacher preparation for the new capstone course is essential to help ensure that the course remains a viable option for core credit to satisfy the fourth science in Texas,” said Kathy Ellins, TXESS Revolution project director. “We expect this program to serve as a national model for earth and space science professional development programs for K-12 teachers.”By 2011, the board will require all Texas public students to take four science courses in high school instead of three. Earth and space science will be taught as a “capstone course,” integrating material from a range of disciplines to help students make connections across subjects.
The program, based at The University of Texas at Austin, received $1.48 million from the National Science Foundation’s Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences program with matching grants from two divisions within the university: the Jackson School of Geosciences and the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching within the College of Education.
During the five-year program, two cohorts of about 70 teachers each will attend a series of professional development academies and two-week summer institutes.
The academies will last two-and-a-half days and include training with geoscience data, field trips, guest lectures and other special programs. The first academy, “Poking Holes Into the Planet” (Feb. 14-16), focuses on how geologic cores and geophysical logging can help scientists better understand Earth processes and improve the search for resources.
Teachers will also attend two-week summer institutes. The first will be on Earth Science By Design, a program developed by TERC, a nonprofit education research and development organization, and the American Geological Institute to help teachers to teach to the big ideas in earth and space science and use visualizations and satellite imagery to promote student understanding. The second, on petroleum science and technology, will be hosted by the university’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.
The training program addresses another critical need in Texas, retention of minority students. As minority students advance through school, at every level their numbers dwindle. Few go on to pursue degrees in earth sciences. TXESS Revolution seeks to reverse that trend.
“What if we showed students what they can do in the earth sciences?” said Hilary Olson, co-principal investigator for the program. “Imagine a teacher has a student who is really good at math or science or computers. What if she said, ‘Have you considered a career in geology or petroleum engineering?’ whereas in the past, she might have said, ‘Have you considered biology?’”
Principal investigators for the project are Ellins, Olson and Eric Barron, dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences. In addition to TERC, the Jackson School, the College of Education and the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, another partner is the University of South Florida.
For more information about research at the Jackson School, contact J.B. Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-232-9623.