ON THE CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTING A CAPSTONE GEOLOGY COURSE IN TEXAS HIGH SCHOOLS
The challenges come from several directions. First, teaching materials did not exist for the new course. The state standards were written to engage students in active learning and discussion at a high level, and they align well with the Earth Science Literacy Principles, but they did not match existing published materials. Ongoing efforts are addressing this need at the school, district, and state level, and excellent course materials are now available online. Universities (UT Austin, Texas A&M University and UTEP) are working in collaboration with master teachers to produce reviewed and curated educational resources organized for the yearlong course, and teachers are using these successfully. A second challenge, however, is that many high schools will not offer the course, even when they have well trained teachers on staff. That may be related to the third challenge and most important challenge, finding the right audience.
In today’s highly competitive college application environment, students who excel in science are told to take AP science classes only. If they are serious about trying to earn a spot in the top 10% of their class, they can’t afford to take a course for regular credit – all of their classes have to be worth extra grade point credits. This makes it unlikely that the brightest science students will choose Earth and Space Science as their capstone elective. The Texas Legislature just made it tougher by reducing the science graduation requirement to only 3 classes. Earth and Space Science still exists as an option, but if it is to be widely taught, new and different strategies need to be employed.