Enhancing Geoscience Education within a Minority-Serving Preservice Teacher Population

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and Huston-Tillotson University collaborated on a proof of concept project to offer a geoscience course to undergraduate students and preservice teachers in order to expand the scope of geoscience education within the local minority student and teacher population. Students were exposed to rigorous Earth science materials, geoscientists conducting cutting-edge research, headliner topics, and pedagogical approaches to teaching. An evaluation of the data reveal that the course received mixed, but overall positive reviews and that student performance was mixed. Pre- and posttest results indicate that students made only modest gains. Half of the students performed at levels that matched our expectations and will be able to apply the geoscience knowledge and skills that they learned in an elementary school setting. The course contributed to the preparation of minority teachers to teach Earth science in Texas, filling a critical need. The authors, in collaboration with a minority-serving institution and as part of the preparation for a preservice teacher program, benefited from the experience; they subsequently applied the lessons learned to a program of professional development for minority-serving science teachers, the TeXas Earth and Space Science (TXESS) Revolution.

© 2012 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/11-229.1]

Key words: Historically Black College and University (HBCU), diversity, undergraduate course, instruction, geoscience education

INTRODUCTION

The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), a research unit within the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, and Huston-Tillotson University (HTU), a minority-serving Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Austin, collaborated on a proof of concept project in 2006 to expand the scope of geoscience education within the local minority student and teacher population. The idea for the UnG/HTU "geodiversity" project arose out of interactions between UTIG researchers and HTU faculty who had been brought together by a series of Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Distinguished Lectures hosted by HTU. The project involved three elements: (1) a preservice teacher component designed to augment the ability to teach Earth science in Texas; (2) a summer workshop for Austin-based, minority-serving, inservice teachers to further their Earth science professional development; and (3) a K-12 student education initiative to expand HTU's Austin PreFreshman Engineering Program, an ongoing immersive mathematics/science summer program, to include a fourth year centered on geoscience. This paper reports on the preservice teacher preparation component carried out through a semester-long course, "Special Topics in the Geosciences," taught in spring 2006 at HTU. The course targeted preservice science teachers as well as other undergraduate students majoring in education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. The authors, as well-intentioned novices, encountered a number of unanticipated situations, which are discussed in this paper.

UTIG's primary mission is to investigate the dynamic geophysical processes that influence Earth's structure, environment, and climate. Recognizing the importance of collaboration between research institutions and the K-12 educational system, however, UTIG researchers also carry out projects aimed at improving the quality of K-12 geoscience education throughout Texas. HTU, a private four-year institution with an annual enrollment of about 700 students, is one of eight HBCUs in the state of Texas, with 105 HBCUs nationwide (United States Department of Education, 2009). The United Negro College Fund reports on its Web site that although HBCUs make up only 3% of institutions of higher education nationwide, they graduate 20% of all African American students enrolled in four-year colleges and 50% of African American public school teachers. …