By Ann Sutton
Thanks in part to a gift from the Shell Oil Company Foundation, UH-Downtown will be able to equip a technology center and teaching laboratory that could improve student and teacher performance in math and science.
Shell will donate $408,000 over the next five years, and UH-D will provide the remaining $52,000 necessary to fund the venture.
The money will provide for multimedia workstations and interactive television in the new Science Education and Technology Center and will also outfit a companion Science and Technology Demonstration Laboratory with computers and other equipment.
According to Larry Spears, a chemistry professor and chairman of UH-D's Department of Natural Sciences, such improvements are necessary to accomodate tools like the Internet and three-dimensional graphs. But he said technology has its limits.
"I do not think there is much reliable data that can show that utilizing technology is going to make a big difference in students' ability to learn math and science," Spears said.
The two facilities, which are now used as a storeroom and a classroom, will educate and train secondary math and science education students and elementary urban education majors to use hands-on teaching technology.
"Education students don't know how to effectively use modern technology instruction and hands-on science with students," Spears said.
The center and laboratory will also be used for continuing education, teacher in-service training and educating high school students during the summer.
In addition to helping offset the cost of the laboratories, $58,000 of the gift will be used to fund Shell Science Education Mentorship Scholarships, a new program which will allow faculty to tutor science education students and assist them with projects.
The push for helping future educators develop technological teaching skills comes in the wake of a three-year study that found most U.S. students from kindergarten through 12th grade scored far below their peers from 21 other countries in science and math. American students only outperformed those in Cyprus and South Africa.
More specifically, the numbers showed that the American students' scores in fourth grade and below compared favorably to those of students from other countries. It was between fourth and 12th grades, however, that the scores in the United States gradually declined.
"There is now a focus to start working to fix the problem at the start of the decline, with students in grades four through six," Spears explained.
The training provided at the UH-D facility will not only help increase the number of advanced math and science teachers in Texas, but will also help prepare them for the increase in technology-related jobs that is predicted to occur during the next couple of years.
According to public relations consultant Karen Hughes, the number of advanced math and science teachers in Texas is expected to increase to 10,000 from 2,500 over the next four years.
"There has been a major shortage in advanced math and science teachers, especially in urban areas," Spears said. "Texas produces very few."
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