School’s out for summer, yet the learning continues for several high school teachers who have come to the Forty Acres during the last week of July to hone their skills in professional development workshops. They’re all instructors for several concurrent-enrollment programs in the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships (LCSP) that prepare juniors and seniors for college.
In partnership with school districts across the state, the LCSP offers three unique courses in math (MathBridge), chemistry (ChemBridge) and writing (SPURS) that enable high school students to earn college credit from UT Austin. The credits are transferable to UT Austin and most colleges and universities across the state. By the time they enter their freshman year, they’ll have the confidence and skills to tackle even the most challenging subjects.
Students aren’t the only ones getting the academic edge. Participating teachers are invited to come to campus for two annual professional development workshops that help them prepare for the semester ahead. Like their students who periodically take field trips to UT Austin, the teachers experienced the life of a Longhorn as they stayed in dorms and participated in interactive classroom activities throughout the week.
At the start of the program, the teachers get a binder filled with coursework and materials. They break into their respective groups and attend classes taught by UT instructors. Carolina Medina, who teaches SPURS at IDEA College Prep, San Benito, says this is a time to regroup and reflect on how to tap into their students’ potential.
“They make sure that we’re all on the same page about the content,” Medina says. “Writing doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, so we talk about what this new generation needs to be prepared for the real world. It’s up to us to go back to our schools and uphold our high expectations—and you’d be surprised to see how many of our students are willing to rise to the occasion.”
The best way to grab their attention, says Amanda Hager, coordinator of MathBridge, is to make learning fun—and to show students the real-world applications of math. In the professional development workshops, teachers learn how to engage their students through an array of interactive lessons.
“We try to break out of the tired model of ‘here’s a math problem, now memorize and repeat,’” says Hager, a math instructor in the College of Natural Sciences. “Students are encouraged to make guesses, experiment to test theories, make logical arguments and write about their ideas.”
The goal, Hager says, is to move away from rote learning and show students how to approach math like a fun jigsaw puzzle rather than an unsolvable mess of numbers, letters and symbols on the whiteboard.
“Every time a student says, ‘I used to hate math, but now I know that math isn’t what I thought it was,’ it makes my heart happy,’” Hager says. “I personally feel like math is about playing games and solving puzzles all day, and sometimes you have to stop and write about the games you’re playing. And I love it! I wouldn’t do anything else.”
That infectious enthusiasm can be seen in a professional development workshop taught by Dr. Kate Biberdorf, a chemistry lecturer in the College of Natural Sciences. There is never a dull moment as she zips around the room, firing out questions and demonstrating the wonders of science in experiments that often lead to explosions.
After participating in one of Biberdorf’s trademark classroom activities—making ice cream out of liquid nitrogen—Rita King is excited to take her new skills back to her classroom at Edison High School in San Antonio.
“These workshops are great because I get to learn a lot about chemistry at a higher level,” says King, who has been participating in ChemBridge for eight years. “I also really enjoy meeting with a lot of teachers from my own district and other districts across the state.”
Working alongside King as they stirred up a gooey ice cream mixture under a cloud of liquid nitrogen, Frank Morales, also a ChemBidge instructor in San Antonio, got a feel for what it’s like to be a student discovering the fun side of chemistry for the first time. This is one of the many reasons why he comes back to the summer workshops every year.
“I come here every year,” says Morales, who teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School. “Not just for the professional development, but for the collegiality with other teachers. Dr. B is very dynamic, and it’s helpful to learn more in detail about what she expects from her students.”
The concurrent enrollment courses are made possible by partnerships between the DDCE, PCARP, the Departments of Chemistry and Mathematics, and the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Rhetoric and Writing. Visit the LCSP website for more information.