Department of Science/Mathematics Education

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

News & Events

UT Dallas Lecturer Develops Earth Science Training Program for Elementary School Teachers

byBeth Keithly

It began with a class project and is now the subject of a more than $450,000 grant with the potential to help more than 3,500 teachers deepen their earth science content knowledge. Barbara Curry, project director for the Texas Regional Collaborative (TRC) for Excellence in Science Teaching, is working with a team of local teachers, including current and former graduate students, on the geology module “Change Over Time” which will become part of a state-wide program designed to assist teachers in the implementation of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

This module takes specific conceptual information in earth science, starting in kindergarten and builds on it each year through the eighth grade. Earth science is an area of need in the state.

“One of the biggest areas of concern with the fifth grade TAKS test is that the students consistently score low on earth science questions,” Curry explains. “Some elementary school teachers do not feel prepared enough to teach earth science concepts.”

So Curry took the idea to her UT Dallas graduate course on science for teachers. One half of the class designed an astronomy module and the other designed the “Change Over Time” geology module.

When Curry told the TRC about the geology module, they said they were very interested. The Collaborative assisted her in getting a four-month, $459,836 grant from the Texas Education Agency and UT Austin to fully develop the work.

By teaching topics on an adult level and increasing the teacher’s understanding, they are better able to teach concepts in the classroom.

During a test run of the program, scheduled for June, UT Dallas Collaborative teachers will be trained in the concepts covered in the module. Afterward, they will be tested on how well they retain the information. Based on those results, any changes will be made and then it will be ready for training of Collaborative Instructional Team Members.

“So, it’s being reviewed by geologists, science experts in assessment, school district science specialists, and the Collaborative staff,” Curry said.

The program is a mix of direct teaching, hands-on and inquiry based instruction. Providing materials for the teachers will use up most of the funding, Curry predicts. Once the professional development training goes statewide, it will be part of a three-day program implemented by the 35 Texas Regional Collaborative throughout the state.

Teachers who participate in the Regional Collaborative program are highly motivated and self-selected. Once they have been trained they will be required to mentor and support their colleagues at a campus and district level to assist in the full scale implementation of the program to thousands of other teachers across Texas. If everything stays on track, Curry predicts the information could make its way into the classroom for the 2007-2008 school year. However, Curry points out it will be several years before the program could take any credit for changes in the TAKS scores.

“But we will also be looking at the teachers,” Curry said.

The follow-up will include analyzing whether the training makes teachers more effective in the classroom and if retention of content by the teachers has been achieved. Further, Curry will also be looking at the teacher developers and studying the effects of participating in this type of project. Will it have an effect on how teachers see themselves and their classroom experiences? That work will be submitted to the Association for Science Teacher Education for a future conference.

The astronomy project has not been forgotten. Curry is working with the Collaborative on another potential grant that would allow it to be fully developed.

Curry, in addition to her work as project director, is a senior lecturer in the Science/Mathematics Education program in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She also works with pre-service elementary teachers through the Teacher Development Program in the School of General Studies. She is currently seeking a Ph.D. in Science Education at Texas Christian University with an emphasis in working on the optimum classroom and practicum experiences for pre-service teachers.

  • Updated: June 1, 2007