Earth Science Returns to Texas High Schools

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

For as long as anyone can remember, earth science was taught throughout elementary, middle and high schools (K-12) in Texas. One would think that teaching about earth processes including the formation of hydrocarbons would be considered fundamental and essential knowledge for all students growing up in an oil-rich state like Texas.

But as recently as 1998, the Texas Legislature removed all teachings of earth science from the school curriculum statewide.

By 2001 prominent earth scientists joined forces to reverse the decision and formed the Texas Education Agency Task Force, which began to lobby the Legislature in an effort to restore science to the high school curriculum.

“The task force idea was first suggested in early 2000 by Marcus Milling, then AGI executive director (now deceased),” said AAPG Honorary Member Stan Pittman, of Ellison Miles Geotechnology Institute at Brookhaven College in Dallas.

AAPG members were quick to support AGI’s idea. Other AAPG members who joined Pittman on the task force included the late Ed Roy, another AAPG Honorary Member and then-chairman of Trinity University, and David Dunn, University of Texas at Dallas. Over the following year, the task force made multiple trips around the state to meet with teacher groups and identify the needs in Texas public schools.

This same task force then enlisted the support of other influential AAPG members including W.H. Hunt, Petro-Hunt; James F. Reilly, then a NASA astronaut; Scott Tinker, director of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology; and Diane Brownlee, EMGI’s director.

It was this group that testified before the Texas School Board and Legislature on behalf of implementing four years of science as a requirement for high school graduation – including the science elective of earth and space science.

Solving New Challenges

The efforts of these AAPG members and many others paid off, when on July 16, 2004, the school board agreed to require four years of science for high school graduation and to accept an elective course in earth science as the third or fourth year high school science credit.

In fact, beginning this September, “Earth and Space Science” classes will be taught in Texas schools with course credit applied to fulfill the high school science graduation requirement.

While the return of science to the high school curriculum is indeed a victory, new challenges have surfaced. But with assistance from EMGI, the North Texas Geological Society, AAPG member Rebecca Dodge and many others, a collaboration of earth science professionals will guarantee that more educators are trained to teach and more students are prepared for careers in geoscience.

Challenges and solutions include:

♦ The Texas school board’s agreement to the TEA Task Force plan came with a financially exorbitant provision – namely, that every high school in Texas build a geological lab to support the Earth and Space Science course.

To offset costs for equipping high school geology labs, the North Texas Geological Society has taken the lead to supplement teacher training by purchasing teaching materials valued at over $500 per school for Texas high school classrooms and laboratories.

♦ Adequately trained teachers in sufficient numbers were scarce. With the multi-year hiatus in teaching earth science at the secondary school level, many earth science educators are no longer in demand, changed their subject matter focus to chemistry or, for some, quit teaching altogether.

To meet the rising demand for adequately trained science EMGI will offer multiple opportunities and methodologies for teacher training, including:

  • A one-week workshop in Dallas on pedagogy and earth science content for high school teachers on August 9-13.
  • A five-week online course written specifically for high school teachers wanting to teach earth and space science is under development. Rebecca Dodge will provide the content for the new online teacher tutorial. An independent vendor will develop the software and Web interface for the course.

While other universities and educators offer online courses in physical geology, this five-week course is designed specifically around the skill standards required by law in Texas, known as “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.”

“The online course is similar to an undergraduate physical geology course, plus some additional physical geography content,” Dodge said. “It’s designed to prepare any secondary or high school teacher to teach earth sciences.

♦ The EMGI summer 2010 institute will teach elementary-level to high school-level teachers geo-spatial technology using Google Earth, and will include hands-on work at an area fossil field.

Earth and space science is only one option open to students who previously may not have been exposed to earth sciences, thereby potentially reducing the number of students who will enroll in the class to fulfill the new graduation requirement.

Since earth science was removed from secondary/high school curriculum, students in Texas were taught earth science only at the eighth grade or middle school level. For most students, when university and career-path decisions are being made four years later, awareness of earth science was only a distant memory.

♦ At least once each month EMGI will teach Rocks In Your Head course for teachers somewhere in Texas or elsewhere in the United States.

Pittman worked with AAPG Foundation member Herbert Hunt to put the course together. Initially, RIYH was an AAPG initiative, and the program cost was underwritten by AAPG and the Foundation.

The program’s impact yields exponential increases in the number of qualified educators prepared to teach earth sciences. According to EMGI, 750 teachers were trained last year – mostly from Texas and Louisiana.

RIYH, offered during the recent AAPG convention in New Orleans, also will be offered in May at the upcoming Pacific Section meeting in Anaheim, Calif., and in June at the Rocky Mountain Section meeting in Durango, Colo.

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Regions and Sections

Regions and Sections Column - Carol McGowen
Carol Cain McGowen is the development manager for AAPG's Regions and Sections. She may be contacted via email , or telephone at 1-918-560-9403.

Regions and Sections Column

Regions and Sections is a regular column in the EXPLORER offering news for and about AAPG's six international Regions and six U.S. Sections. News items, press releases and other information should be submitted via email or to: EXPLORER - Regions and Sections, P.O. Box 979, Tulsa, OK 74101. 

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