Three University of Houston-Victoria professors recently received $410,000 through two grants designed to improve science instruction at area middle schools.
“The end result of these grants will be to help teachers prepare students for their high school science classes,” said Nora Hutto, a UHV School of Education & Human Development professor and project co-director of one of the grants.
UHV received a $210,000 Teacher Quality Grant to fund a project co-directed by Hutto and Sandy Venneman, an associate professor of psychology and biology in the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. The state also awarded a $200,000 grant to fund a project directed by Roy Foley, a professor in the School of Education and Human Development.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved funding for the two-year grants that started in May. The Teacher Quality Grants Program is a federally funded effort that provides competitive grants to higher education institutions. The grants promote improved instruction in math and science at Texas schools by providing professional development for teachers.
Hutto and Venneman’s grant will allow 18 middle school science teachers from Wharton Independent School District and other rural districts to take graduate-level science education classes this summer and next summer. The teachers also will take professional development classes during the next two academic school years.
The teachers will learn more about environmental earth science in the applied areas of biology, chemistry and physics, and will work to improve their teaching methods, Hutto said.
The money from each grant covers the tuition costs for the teachers to take the UHV summer courses, instructional materials, stipends for each teacher and classroom technology, such as laptop computers and video cameras, for the teachers to keep.
Charlene Clarke, a lead teacher at the Minnie Mae Hopper Alternative Program in Wharton ISD, is one of the teachers who has benefited from past Teacher Quality Grants received by UHV. She was involved with a science program co-directed by Hutto and Venneman in the summer of 2008.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for me,” she said. “You get to go to school, and you don’t have to pay tuition. You get access to a lot of resources, and you get to collaborate with teachers across grade levels.”
Foley’s project also will benefit middle school science teachers but will be for 22 of them teaching in Victoria public and private schools, and surrounding school districts.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that as a country, our advantage in math and science is slipping,” he said. “This grant is important to increase our teachers’ knowledge of science and to better their instructional skills.”
Foley will be working with Richard Gunasekera, an associate professor of biology in the UHV School of Arts and Sciences, and Jane Fry, an associate professor of reading in the university’s School of Education & Human Development, on the grant project. The participants will learn more about physics and ways to better teach their students. The grant he’s directing also will pay for the participants to attend the three-day Conference for the Advancement of Science Teachers sponsored by the Science Teachers Association of Texas.
Foley hopes to show his students how they can teach physics using hands-on activities to make it more interesting. He also plans to show teachers how they can use technology in their classrooms.
“These grant projects are another way UHV can reach out to the communities it serves and increase the quality of science education that students are receiving,” said Mary Natividad, interim dean of the UHV School of Education & Human Development. “The nation needs strong science education to help build a competitive workforce and help turn the economy around.”
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