Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:05 PM


SNOW, Eleanour, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas, Austin, 2275 Speedway, Stop C9000, Austin, TX 78712-1722, ELLINS, Katherine K., Office of Outreach and Diversity, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, 10100 Burnet Rd., Bldg. 196, Austin, TX 78758 and RIGGS, Eric M., College of Geosciences, Texas A&M University, Room 202, Eller O&M Building, MS 3148 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843,

In 2005, the Texas Legislature mandated a new high school curriculum calling for 4 years of math and science. Geologists played a prominent role in getting the 4x4 passed, and a new capstone course, Earth and Space Science, approved. It is the first time a geoscience course was approved to meet state science standards in at least 20 years. As envisioned, Earth and Space Science would be a high-level science course with prerequisites in biology, chemistry, and physics. The implementation, however, has not gone smoothly. Despite statewide efforts to promote the course and train teachers, only 13,500 high school students (about 1%) took the course last year.

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.