Future Science, Technology and Business Leaders Declare Science Symposium “Awesome!”

Students from San Angelo ISD's Gifted and Talented Program donned lab coats to learn about forensic science.

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Science is really so cool!

If you don’t believe it, ask the 150 students and teachers from San Angelo Independent School District who attended the Center for Science and Mathematics Education’s Young Scholars Science/Math Symposium at The University of Texas at Austin.

"We hope that all of these students take many, many math and science courses and retain an interest in technology, science and math for their entire lives. It’s been such a pleasure to help empower San Angelo teachers and students in their quest for excellence in teaching and learning."

— Dr. Kamil A. Jbeily, TRC founder and executive director

This is the first year for the center to offer the symposium, and it was attended by students in grades 1-10 in San Angelo ISD’s Gifted and Talented Program. The half-day event featured age-appropriate, experiential learning activities taught by graduate students in science and mathematics education and staff members of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC).

“In San Angelo ISD, we have a rigorous, highly competitive program called the Texas Research Institute for Young Scholars,” says Dr. Carol Ann Bonds, San Angelo ISD superintendent. “Students of all ages work in teams of two to four to conduct scientific research and solve real world problems – this year’s research theme was the global water crisis.

“The students must work with expert mentors on their projects and present the research in front of a panel of university professors. This year we had 23 student winners who went on to present their research at an international conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. There were about 1,500 students from around the world in attendance. The top 134 students from San Angelo who conducted research and received passing scores at the conference were invited to attend this symposium sponsored by the Center for Science and Mathematics Education.”

The science symposium taught students how to use podcasts as a powerful self-learning tool.

Sessions open to the distinguished San Angelo scientists included a crash course in podcasting for seventh through 10th graders taught by Dr. Keith Mitchell, TRC coordinator for technology initiatives. Students learned about podcast formats, how to search for science and math podcasts, establish a free subscription to iTunes and access podcasts on a computer or portable device. After learning the “how,” students were able to apply their knowledge and create a science podcast of their own that incorporated music, sound effects and interviews with student volunteers. In order to encourage continued learning and experimentation with technology, each student who attended the session received an iPod Shuffle loaded with over 100 science and math podcasts. Mitchell also informed San Angelo ISD teachers that he would be available to visit their schools and offer instructors professional development training in podcast authoring.

Sixth graders were treated to a lesson in CSI-style forensic science that included advanced fingerprint analysis and a criminal case presented before a student jury. Students got into character by donning white lab jackets and working in investigative groups to identify 10-15 points of similarity between suspected criminals’ fingerprints. They also were introduced to numerous other forensic techniques, including fiber analysis, food analysis, ballistics, handwriting analysis and chromatography. Science education graduate students Brian Fortney and Amy Moreland taught the forensic science session.

"I’ve kind of always liked science because it’s all about solving mysteries and, in a lot of cases, analyzing people and the human brain. I plan to be a crypto-zoologist when I grow up – whatever career you go into, it really helps to have learned plenty math and science."

— Rachel Glassford, fifth grader, San Angelo ISD Gifted and Talented Program

A lesson titled “Habitat, Habitat, Gotta Have a Habitat!” took 40 fifth graders outdoors for an energetic simulation of wildlife responses to environmental factors. Some students assumed the role of deer while others represented various habitat features that influence the deer population. They discovered that a given amount of land has a certain carrying capacity for a species and that natural and manmade limiting factors – such as housing, traffic and predators - affect the rise and decline of that species’ population. The activity demonstrated to students that everything in an ecosystem is interrelated and that elements of the environment continuously affect populations. The lesson was taught by TRC professional development coordinator Marsha Willis and graduate student Linda Brown.

Dr. Debra Junk, TRC coordinator for mathematics initiatives, and Dr. Carol Fletcher, TRC assistant director, led fourth graders through a fun exercise called “Crazy Shapes” in which students solved puzzles related to various geometric figures. Learning fascinating facts about polygons and polyhedrons, students moved through four workstations, tackling an array of challenging puzzles.

The youngest symposium attendees were treated to a lesson titled “Through the Looking Glass” and led by science education graduate student Deanna Buckley. First through third graders tapped into higher level thinking skills to examine a scientific mystery, generate questions about the nature of light, examine variables that could affect experiment outcomes, make predictions and test their theories. Working in teams, students used water-filled glass test tubes, Jell-o, a laser level, newspaper, water and clear plastic wrap to answer scientific queries about light refraction phenomena.

“These students are very young,” says Buckley, “yet they have the ability to reason logically when they’re given an opportunity to observe physical characteristics and systematically eliminate non-contributing variables. Each query in our lesson sequence built on what the students learned in a previous part of the series, and they were able to execute complex tasks in the end that might at first have seemed beyond their capabilities.

"When students figure out how to use an information aggregator like an iPod, for example, they become more self-sufficient learners. They can easily create material for others to watch and listen to and can access an infinite amount of educational information on their own – this is something that will aid them in school and on into their careers as well."

— Dr. Keith Mitchell, TRC coordinator for technology initiatives

“Making students active participants, having them discover, on their own, the answers to questions generated by the learners themselves, demonstrating the real-world relevance of the material and giving them exciting challenges make all the difference. If we can get children interested in science and math at this early stage and successfully introduce concepts like light refraction, just think what they will be able to do in high school and beyond. And they actually will have fun doing it!”

In addition to receiving lesson-related items to take home, all students who participated in the symposium were also given Longhorn embossed T-shirts and caps to commemorate the event.

“One reason that San Angelo was a very good choice for this initial symposium offering,” says Dr. James P. Barufaldi, Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor and center director, “is because Dr. Carol Ann Bonds, the San Angelo ISD superintendent, is such a visionary. She realizes the critical importance of getting students interested in science and math, facilitating their academic success in these areas and keeping them focused on ways they can use this knowledge for the rest of their lives – preferably in careers like engineering and high tech.

“In inviting these students to the UT campus, we hope to get them excited about science, math and technology and also, perhaps, recruit future Longhorns. Thanks to education leaders like Dr. Bonds who ambitiously push the school boundaries, these students see the world as their ‘learning village.’”

The Center for Science and Mathematics Education is a research, service and teaching unit in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. The center’s main goal is to design and implement activities that enhance P-16 teaching and learning of science and mathematics. The activities are data-driven and informed by state, national and international research, including research done at the center itself.

The Center for Science and Mathematics Education is dedicated to excellence in science and math education - and to recruiting future Longhorns.

The Texas Regional Collaboratives for Science and Mathematics Education is an award-winning network of public schools, businesses, communities and universities that offers sustained, high-intensity professional development training to P-12 science and math teachers. To date, the TRC has received around $45 million in funding from state, federal and corporate including the Texas Education Agency, Shell Oil Company, AT&T Foundation, El Paso Corporation, Toyota USA Foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

To learn more about the College of Education’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, please visit the CSME Website. To read more about the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching, go to the TRC Website.

Last updated on April 18, 2013