High School Research Initiative Expansion Project
Rural students and teachers are far from universities, have fewer resources, and most students are not attending college, and at the same time, there is a well-recognized need for more K-12 students to pursue STEM careers. The University of Texas at Austin High School Research Initiative (HRI) Expansion Project seeks to address this need by broadening the audience and reach of the original program, leveraging the infrastructure of the HRI, including the partnerships with more than ten regional high schools and partnerships with two nationally recognized models for STEM education: The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) and UTeach. The HRI Expansion Project seeks to enhance educational science resources, teacher training, and a community of higher ed and high school educators to promote a diverse workforce to meet the growing health science needs of the country.
Rural students and teachers are far from universities, have fewer resources, and most students are not attending college. The vast state of Texas includes more schools in rural areas than any other state (i.e., 36% schools in rural, ), and these rural Texans have low enrollment into higher education (i.e., 29%, ). Further, the Texas population is almost 40% Hispanic, and 14.9% of the state population is at or below the poverty level , both groups underrepresented in STEM. In a geographically expansive area that amounts to the area of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina combined , Texas has its unique challenges in STEM education and enrollment into college.
Now, during the public health crisis that has sparked a desire to be involved, and when teachers and students demand action, it is the time to reach this audience. The University of Texas at Austin High School Research Initiative (HRI) Expansion Project seeks to enhance educational science resources, teacher training, and a community of higher ed and high school educators to promote a diverse workforce to meet the growing health science needs of the country.
The HRI Expansion Project seeks to address this need by broadening the audience and reach of the original program, leveraging the infrastructure of the HRI, including the HRI partnerships with more than ten regional high schools and partnerships with two nationally recognized models for STEM education: The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) and UTeach. FRI is an ambitious program that involves 1000+ freshmen and sophomores participating in authentic research experiences while receiving course credit. UTeach prepares pre-service and in-service STEM teachers; the UTeach Professional Development program has a proven track record of recruiting rural teachers for training opportunities .
The HRI Extension Project will apply effective practices to new programming designed to address the specific challenges faced in STEM education in rural Texas and encourage more rural students to pursue higher education and careers in health sciences. In all, the HRI Expansion Project will (1) develop and disseminate inquiry-driven science modules, which translate R1 University research, to rural high schools in the state of Texas (≥300 students/yr; 7 modules over 5 yrs), (2) develop a robust yearlong professional development organization for high school teachers (≥ 15 teachers/yr), which includes a 4-week remote professional training steeped with content (e.g. statistics, molecular biology, etc.) and ongoing, yearlong supportive activities (e.g. monthly meetings, newsletter guidance, etc.), (3) develop a network of UT faculty scientists, undergraduate mentors, and high school teachers to support science instruction and share firsthand perspectives of their research and life as a scientist with partnered rural classrooms, and (4) determine the impact of the HRI Expansion Project activities on student knowledge and skills, attitudes towards science, enrollment in higher education, teachers’ abilities to mentor, and UT scientists’ communication and mentoring skills. The HRI Expansion Project seeks to move the needle in rural science education, building persistence in STEM and a diversified health science workforce.
Teacher training is central to the mission of the HRI Expansion Project; in addition to the extensive HRI Expansion Project Professional Development program (Specific Aim 2), numerous efforts will be made to provide teacher training workshops (i.e., 1-day or less) at conferences. These trainings, often 1-day or less, will offer opportunities to recruit new teachers. We will continue our workshops, as they were provided through the original HRI program, as they have been well-received at the following conferences and events: Austin Independent School District Science + Mathematics X conference, Texas A&M K12 Summer Institute (many rural participants, see Letter of Support), UTeach Conference, and Advancing STEM Education Research at UT Symposium (Austin, TX). We will add additional training workshops, especially those targeting rural educators, such as the Texas Rural Education Association conferences (Fort Worth, TX) and the Raise Your Hand Texas Conference (virtual).
Teacher recruitment and marketing are critical to the success of the program and the dissemination of the modules (also described in the Significance section). Through our partnerships, the UTeach network of teachers will provide access to teachers. The UTeach Professional Development program has a proven track record of recruiting teachers and leading teacher training events for teachers from rural districts (see Letter of Support). Partnership with UTeach in general, which has a long history of providing quality teacher training and resources, sets this new HRI Expansion Project up for success and for being well received within the ecosystem of Texas teachers.
The information about the inquiry-driven science modules will be available in a publicly accessible website. The actual modules themselves will be available by request via a password protected site to provide teachers, administrators, and staff easy access to the materials.
To meet the needs of the community, 7.9% with Limited English Proficiency (LEP, ages 5-17, ), the inquiry-driven science modules will be translated to Spanish for classrooms with LEP students, when requested. A translator, who has already been identified and used for program evaluation, will translate curricular materials, website information, promotional/recruitment materials, and dissemination materials.
Programmatic data, best practices/lessons learned, and program replication potential/details will be regularly shared with the outreach community, such as at national and local conferences (e.g., NIH SciEd annual conference and the UT College of Natural Sciences Undergraduate Research Form), peer-reviewed publications (such as CBE – Life Sciences Education, The Journal of STEM Outreach – HRI manuscript in preparation), and weekly HRI newsletters (see Approach for example).
Further, the dissemination plan includes the utilization of social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to share student and teacher stories, as well as recent activities. The HRI Expansion Project website will be an important tool, directing teachers and administrators to our inquiry-driven science modules and informing the public of upcoming training opportunities. While these modules will be available to all teachers participating in the HRI Expansion Project Professional Develop Program and HRI Expansion Project Network, they will be released to the general public after 2 years of implementation (and therefore iteratively designed and revised).
Rural Texas High School science students and teachers
The High School Research Initiative Expansion Project provides inquiry-drive science modules, which translate R1 University of Texas-Austin research to rural high schools in the state of Texas.These modules include:
* Fish Behavior,
* Virtual Drug Screening,
* Caffeinated Coli,
* Habitat Scouts and more.