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Texas science teachers benefit from $5 million given to University of Texas at Austin

Texas science teachers will be getting intensive, hands-on, region-specific professional development training thanks to a $5.9 million grant awarded to The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science Teaching (TRC).

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AUSTIN, Texas—Texas science teachers will be getting intensive, hands-on, region-specific professional development training thanks to a $5.9 million grant awarded to The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science Teaching (TRC).

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided the funds, continuing a 14-year partnership with the TRC that has resulted in about 10,000 science teachers receiving a minimum 105 hours each of training, support and mentoring and more than one million Texas students benefiting from the teachers’ expanded, updated content area knowledge and skills.

“Currently we have 21 ‘collaboratives’ around Texas," says Dr. Kamil A. Jbeily, founder and director of the TRC. “Each collaborative is made up of education service centers, public schools, community members, policymakers, businesses and institutions of higher education that have joined forces to help science teachers and their students excel.

“With TEA’s grant, our program will be able to expand from 21 to 34 collaboratives, and we will increase the number of universities and colleges that are partnering with us to offer professional development training from 22 to 35. The money allows us not only to expand the scope of the program but also to assure that the high quality with which services have been delivered in the past is maintained or exceeded.”

Each regional collaborative is led by a project director who is affiliated with an area institution of higher learning or regional education service center. Project directors query school districts in their regions, determine the training needs that are a priority for those school districts and create professional development opportunities for participating science teachers.

In the past, teachers have traveled to the coast and studied marine life firsthand, for example, to learn about animals’ adaptation to habitat and to collect creative tools for teaching their students. To learn novel ways of teaching children about dinosaurs, teachers in one collaborative traveled to an Austin-area park and conducted a dig in a pit of dinosaur fossils. In addition to field trips to laboratories, museums, parks and observatories, participating science teachers also are able to gain content area knowledge from top biology, chemistry and physics scholars at universities and colleges around the state by accessing online learning modules and attending classes.

“We have a very effective model in place,” says Dr. James P. Barufaldi, director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education and Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor in Education. “Research-based, relevant training—with a strong focus on the use of technology—is offered to interested master science teachers in each collaborative. Those trained teachers go back to their schools and provide mentoring, technical assistance and peer support to at least five to 10 additional science teachers.

“This method maximizes our training efforts, and we’re seeing a number of objective indicators that what we’re doing works well. For example, recent data show that fifth-graders with teachers who participated in a collaborative scored higher on the TAKS than students with non-participating teachers. In a four-year longitudinal study in one of our East Texas collaboratives, eighth-grade students taught by teachers participating in a collaborative showed greater improvement on their TAAS science test scores than other students around the state.”

According to assessment data, TRC-trained teachers have enjoyed higher scores on their own tests of science content knowledge as well. Between 2002 and 2003, teachers in the TRC improved their science knowledge by an average of 29 points, going from an average score of 54 to 83.

The TRC’s success has been supported financially by corporate partners such as Toyota USA Foundation, Shell Oil Company and SBC and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature. The TRC also has been inducted into the Texas Science Hall of Fame and was selected as the delivery vehicle for science educators’ professional development training under the Texas Science Initiative, which was signed into law by Gov. Perry in 2003.

The TRC is in the College of Education and is the largest science outreach program in the college’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education. To read more about the TRC and collaboratives throughout Texas, visit the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science Teaching Web site.

For more information contact: Kay Randall, College of Education, 512-232-3910.