$2.4 Million Program Aims to Revive Earth and Space Science Teaching in Texas Public Schools

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.

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.

"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."

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.

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.

Principal investigators for the project are Ellins, Hilary Olson, research scientist at the university's Institute for Geophysics, and Eric Barron, dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences. In addition to the Jackson School and the College of Education, major partners include The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, TERC, a nonprofit education research and development organization, and the University of South Florida.