Texas Regional Collaboratives Conference Celebrates Best in STEM Education October 3, 2012
Kamil A. Jbeily, founder and executive director of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching
More than 500 STEM educators, university scholars, policymakers and corporate partners recently converged on Austin for the 19th annual conference of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC).
The TRC, which is part of The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, is the state’s most extensive STEM professional development network.
This year’s conference was built around the theme “Sparking Excellence in STEM Education” and included three days of professional development workshops, networking and celebration of achievements attained by members over the previous year.
“In its more than two decades of existence, the Texas Regional Collaboratives network has touched the professional and personal lives of over 35,000 teachers of science and mathematics,” said Kamil A. Jbeily, founder and executive director of the TRC. “Those teachers go on to mentor and lead many additional teachers in their schools and across their districts.
“The TRC has been able to accomplish so many positive things thanks to the strong commitment, generous support, and hard work of friends, funders and collaborators like the Texas Education Agency, corporations, universities, foundations and community leaders. Coming together, staying together and working together, we have all contributed to the improvement of learning for over three million students across the state of Texas.”
Supporting the 21st Century Teacher
At the TRC annual conference, STEM teachers learn about new science and math content as well as the most effective pedagogical techniques to use in teaching STEM subjects.
Continuing the professional development opportunities offered by the TRC year-round, the conference included 100 breakout sessions that covered all aspects of STEM education and addressed all levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The sessions showcased the TRC’s commitment to providing educators with the most up-to-date STEM content as well as cutting-edge pedagogical practices for communicating math and science concepts.
“TRC teachers were extremely interested in learning more about tools and strategies for ‘flipping the classroom’ this year,” said TRC associate director Carol Fletcher. “Our teachers are leading the way in sharing successful practices in this particular method of instruction and we plan to offer followup multi-day training later this winter to support its implementation in TRC classrooms across the state.
“Hands-on, real-world applications of science and math are extremely valuable to teachers as well. These not only motivate the teachers and students but also help answer the perennial student question, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’” said Fletcher.
Teachers who can give specific examples of how the science and math they are teaching has practical applications outside the classroom are far more capable of engaging their students in challenging content, Fletcher added.
"It's so hard to believe that we're already celebrating the 19th year of this wonderful annual conference. I can honestly say that year's showcases, presentations and workshops were among the very best we have ever had."
— James P. Barufaldi, director of the Center for STEM Education
“Professional development from the TRC is allowing us, as teachers, to better meet the needs of 21st Century students and help them later thrive in careers where critical thinking skills and a high degree of technology savvy are required,” said Leah Hufstetter, who is a member of the UT Tyler Collaborative. “I’ve learned so many new and very effective techniques for communicating math concepts.
“For example, I now incorporate the Angry Birds game in my 6-8 grade lessons. With my sixth graders, we use the game to learn about probability, and then with my eighth graders we use it to understand mean, median, and mode. This has been a great way to teach material that sometimes is very hard for students to grasp. It really boosts their motivation levels.”
Zip Lines and Car Explosions
On a field trip to Steve Wolf's Stunt Ranch, TRC members tested their stunt skills while learning interesting and innovative ways to teach complex math and science concepts.
In addition to the varied and dynamic breakout sessions, a major highlight of this year’s conference was the third annual Shell-sponsored TRC field trip. Over 50 TRC members traveled to Steve Wolf’s Stunt Ranch near Austin to learn about fun and relevant ways of teaching difficult-to-understand science concepts like mechanical advantage and thermodynamics, as well as mathematical skills that included technology-based data collection.
While at the stunt ranch teachers were given the opportunity to scale an 18-foot tall climbing tower, safely experience gravitational forces while falling into a Zero Impact airbag and speed along a 180-foot zip line. They also learned how expanding gases lead to explosions and had their photos taken in front of an exploding van. With all of the activities, participants were shown how the exercises illustrated or explained a variety of math and science concepts.
“This wonderful experience provided the teachers with real life connections to difficult science and math concepts,” said TRC Coordinator for Professional Development Marsha Willis, who organized and facilitated the field trip. “Our plan is for the teachers to develop similar activities in a dynamic action-setting environment on their campuses where they can actively engage students in real life math and science concepts."
One of the most popular recurring features of the conference is an evening showcase, where guests can view some of the Collaboratives’ best work of the year in a setting that resembles a lively, hands-on, research-informed science fair. This year, the showcase featured 59 booths, including two by Collaboratives members from Louisiana.
Following the showcase, attendees were treated to comments from keynote speaker Shree Bose at the awards ceremony and dinner.
Bose, now a Harvard University student, gained international attention after conducting groundbreaking cancer drug resistance research while still a high school student at Fort Worth Country Day School. Bose recently delivered a TED Talk about her landmark work with the cancer drug Cisplatin and was awarded first prize at the Google Science Fair for her research. Glamour magazine also named her one of its Young Amazing Women of the Year.
Teaching and mentoring award winners announced during the evening ceremony included:
Shell Mentoring Excellence Award
Seabrook Intermediate at Clear Creek ISD
UT Center for STEM Education Mentoring Excellence Award
Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School at Northside ISD
Shell Teaching Excellence Award
Mount Vernon Junior High at Mountain Vernon ISD
Robstown High School at Robstown ISD
The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation Teaching
James S. Hogg Middle School at Tyler ISD
Zapata Middle School at Zapata County ISD
The TRC’s 2013 Distinguished Service Award, which is the highest award bestowed by the program, went to Stacy Avery. Avery is Math and Science Partnerships State Director at the Texas Education Agency. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes individuals who have provided generous and longstanding support to the TRC and who have been tireless advocates for strengthening STEM education.
The Virtual Experience
For those who were unable to attend the 2013 conference, this year, the TRC has provided a way to enjoy a multimedia experience of the event online, including: a video with highlights of the meeting; lists and photos of awards winners; and photo galleries with images of the breakout sessions, speakers, award winners, showcase, dinner, field trip and closing luncheon. To access these resources, visit http://thetrc.org/web/nineteenth.html.