This summer The University of Texas-Pan American hosted a program which allowed Rio Grande Valley teachers the opportunity to learn through interactive, live video courses instructed by top scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHSC).
The three-week interactive course, SCIE 6303 "Recent Developments in Applied Sciences Biomedical Sciences Applicable to Secondary School Teachers," was presented through distance learning to 36 teachers in one of three interactive video classrooms available in the Academic Services Building. Each two-hour session, which consisted of Power-Point presentations, graphs, charts and lectures, offered participants the chance to ask questions and join in discussions.
Educators that attended, most with at least three years of teaching experience and currently UTPA graduate students, paid a tuition fee and received a three-hour credit for the course held in July.
Since the collaboration with UTHSC in 1996, the course has had a total of 216 teachers, who working toward their master's degrees, participate.
Yolanda Luevano, a science teacher at Harwell Middle School in Edinburg, said she signed up for this course to interact with other science teachers and hear the input from UTHSC scientists.
"A lot of them (the teachers attending) are from our district so we contact each other through e-mail. The good thing is they aren't stingy, they are willing to share their ideas," she said.
Luevano said these types of courses are appreciated by teachers because of what they do for the fields of science and math. She said a lot of the workshops offered in school districts are primarily for English, reading and writing.
"We have so many students here (in the Valley), maybe if we get them motivated, we could have more in that field," Luevano said.
During the course, teachers are lectured over a subject in-depth by UTHSC scientists who help them come up with fresh teaching techniques and ideas. In the end it is left to the teachers to construct and develop their own curriculum from what they have learned.
The topics taught this year deal with diseases such as tuberculosis and diabetes, both prevalent in the Valley. For some of the educators, like Rosalinda Zuniga, a chemistry teacher at Donna High School, the topic of disease is more difficult to teach.
"Diseases are best taught in biology and I teach chemistry, so what I did last year was turn over the packet that we did to the biology teachers," Zuniga said. Even though the topic may not pertain to her field, Zuniga said she still manages to apply what she has learned in the course during the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test reviews.
Zuniga, a teacher since 1978, said she appreciates the instructors who take the time to talk to the teachers. "It's pretty neat because most of them (instructors) are teaching people or doctors in medical school. These are people that are in the forefront," Zuniga said.
Dr. John McBride, a professor at the College of Education, has been organizing these courses even before the UTHSC partnership. The collaboration began after McBride, together with now-retired Dr. Robert Reeve from the College of Education, came up with the idea of coordinating a series of science courses to better reach high school students, primarily by working with high school teachers and giving them "breaking" information and research they could take back to their classrooms.
The program, originally geared toward high school and middle school teachers, began implementing elementary-level instruction several years ago. This year, approximately two-thirds of the teachers that attended were elementary-level instructors.
"The program has helped our teachers realize the importance of the position they play as a teacher. They decided the greatest contribution they can make is to get their kids excited about science," McBride said.