A UT faculty member participated in the first White House Summit on Next Generation Schools last week to share the University’s work with area high school students to improve their scientific inquiry skills.
Dr. Beth Schlemper, associate professor in the UT Department of Geography and Planning, was invited to the event to speak about a National Science Foundation-funded project that engages students in using geospatial technology to understand their communities and prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).“If students can understand and apply the lessons to their own communities, they can see how they can use it in potential careers,” Schlemper said. “Geospatial technology is a fast-growing field, and introducing students to it in high school gives them an opportunity to think about careers spanning business, government and nonprofit sectors where neighborhood and community planning skills are essential.”
That type of authentic learning project was appealing to the White House staff, said Schlemper, who was one of a number of educators, students, philanthropists and entrepreneurs invited to Washington for the first-ever event to share their efforts to reinvent the high school experience to better empower students to seize opportunities in today’s economy, and prepare students for success in college and career.
Specifically, Schlemper was part of a group of presenters from institutions that support high schools tasked with discussing and making recommendations on the most important elements of redesigning high schools, how to scale up successful models, and how to build evidence to give policymakers the data needed to make changes.
“It was great to see so many government officials, as well as philanthropists and entrepreneurs, who are supportive of efforts underway to enhance high school education,” Schlemper said. “I like seeing we are not doing this alone and there are opportunities to collaborate. That was one of the greatest benefits of getting all of us together. We can see successful projects and how they have scaled them up to make a broader impact to inspire the work that we are doing.”
Schlemper, along with UT faculty members Dr. Kevin Czajkowski and Dr. Sujata Shetty of the Department of Geography and Planning and Dr. Victoria Stewart of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, earlier this year received a $581,000 grant through the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers, or ITEST, program for their geospatial curriculum project. They held a workshop with Scott High School students in the summer where the teens came up with topics to study, collected geographic information, and produced maps for civic action to address these issues. A similar workshop is being planned for summer 2016. As part of the research project, the team also will create a book and online curriculum for more teachers and students to incorporate similar field experiences into their classes.
Prior to the White House Summit on Next Generation Schools Nov. 10, Schlemper also participated in the National Science Foundation’s Next Generation STEM Learning for All Nov. 9.