Training Teachers to Train Tomorrow’s Engineers

Grant establishes center to develop high school engineering curriculum.

Research/Academic Showcase

Lady Liberty Students from Lubbock's Dunbar Middle School mix up mud samples as they learn about geology and engineering during a visit to the Department of Petroleum Engineering.

Engineering, in a way, is about solving riddles. So solve this one.

According to the people who work with them, students do not drop out of engineering programs because they dislike engineering itself. Yet statistics are telling: only 35 percent of the freshmen who entered Texas Tech engineering programs in 1999 graduated with engineering degrees. So where do things go wrong?

Blame the prerequisites.

“Calculus is the killer,” says Dr. Dean Fontenot, director of Texas Tech’s Center for Engineering Outreach, sounding rueful. “Calculus and physics are where we lose the majority of students; before they ever get to the engineering courses.”

Thanks to a $1 million competitive grant, Fontenot and engineering outreach co-director Dr. John Chandler will be on the forefront of a push to reverse what is a growing trend across Texas and the United States: Students often aren’t entering higher education with the tools necessary to tackle engineering challenges.

Enter the T-STEM Initiative

Texas Tech will now house one of five regional T-STEM Centers as part of the $71 million T-STEM, or Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, initiative. The program was created to improve instruction and academic performance in science and math related subjects in Texas secondary schools.

The center will work with T-STEM academies, developing curriculum and training teachers to provide applied engineering instruction in the classroom.

Lady Liberty K-12 teachers Amparo Almendarez (l) and Debbie Cole (r) team up to construct a robot as part of the Center for Engineering Outreach’s teacher training workshop, Introduction to Robotics.

 

“Teaching should be connected to experience and empower those who are learning.”

This approach, in Fontenot’s opinion, is the key to improving student interest in math and science. By showing them how the tools they learn can help solve real world problems – such as making a rocket launch correctly or ensuring that water flows through a household faucet – teachers can help students see how a subject like calculus applies to their everyday lives.

“We need to teach students that everything is tacked to everything else,” Fontenot says. “Teaching should be connected to experience and empower those who are learning.”

Texas Tech will partner with education providers across West Texas, including Lubbock ISD and Education Service Centers in Abilene, San Angelo, Amarillo, Lubbock and Midland.

Texas Tech’s program will build upon many already successful programs, such as the Center for Engineering Outreach, Outdoor School in Junction and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Center for the Integration of Science Education & Research, to develop the new center.

Fontenot and Chandler will direct the new T-STEM Center.

For additional information about the center’s services, K-12 teachers and administrators are encouraged to visit www.tstem.ttu.edu.