For three days this June, more than 600 STEM educators and supporters came together to share and network at the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching’s 21st annual meeting. This year’s three-day event united participants under the theme “Sharing Our Story,” which educators enthusiastically embraced, sharing lessons, programs, and successes. The event demonstrates why Texas Regional Collaboratives (TRC) is a unique resource for pre-K—12-grade math and science educators across the state. Though all states receive federal funding to improve K-12 science and math education, TRC is unique in its broad reach. There are 9,000 TRC teachers in the state of Texas, with one in every county.
A luncheon on a Tuesday kicked off more than 83 presentations and 50 exhibits. Festivities highlighted the talent, passion, and imagination of the educators themselves, who manned booths that showcased their interpretation of the event’s theme. From a storytelling booth to one decorated to resemble the movie Raiders of the Lost Arc, each exhibit featured interactive lessons and examples of student work.
Sharing ideas and successful lessons is a big part of what TRC helps educators do. Launched in 1991 through the tireless efforts of Dr. Kamil A. Jbeily, agencies, and educators across Texas, the goal of TRC was to create regional partnerships built on intellectual and cost-sharing strategies that provide science teachers with relevant, sustained, and high-intensity professional development. In 1996 the Texas Education Agency, a program sponsor, partnered with UT and moved TRC to campus. College of Education Professor James P. Barufaldi, the Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor and director of the Science and Mathematics Education Center, became the organization’s principal investigator. Barufaldi, affectionately referred to as “the Godfather of STEM,” was honored at this year’s event, as colleagues celebrated his retirement and years of outstanding service.
The collaboratives themselves are made up of project leaders, mentor teachers, and cadre teachers who participate in professional development to learn strategies that better teach math and science. The educators work with each other, share ideas back at their home schools and districts, and become leaders in their field.
Educator Tera Collins started her career teaching 1st grade in Rusk ISD, a small district, with no mentor teacher. She eventually moved to 8th-grade physics and geology, though her science knowledge was lacking. She returned to school at UT-Tyler, where she became involved in a collaborative. There, she learned new teaching strategies and strengthened her knowledge base. Within one year, her students’ standardized test scores rose 17 points, from 71 percent to 88 percent, which was 13 points above the state average. Collins became a science specialist at Service Region 7 and is now a project director, presenting her knowledge and strategies to educators nationally.
In her moving keynote speech, Brenda Williams illustrated the power of the collaboratives. Four years ago, Williams was asked to resign from her position as a 4th grade teacher because of statewide budget cuts. She was offered a 5th grade science position in a neighboring district where she would be the only science teacher. This was not necessarily a welcome offer. Williams says, “In college, I’d always struggled with math and science.” Her fear of being responsible for teaching science to others led her to the University of North Texas Collaborative.
“My knowledge increased tenfold. I became more of a facilitator in my classroom. I made changes in how I taught. I forged bonds with other teachers across districts. High school and middle school teachers helped me learn higher concepts.” In 2013 her principal noticed. She was named Teacher of the Year at Argyle Elementary and then for the district. That was followed by nomination for State Teacher of the Year.
Williams says the greatest achievement came when she found out her students earned a 98 percent pass rate on the STAAR exam. “Three years of monthly classes, workshops, and meet-ups—I am living my philosophy of education.”
Dr. Jbeily, founder and director of the TRC, closed the annual meeting with remarks to the gathered educators. “Helping teachers teach from the mind and the heart is exactly what the TRC is about,” he said. “We want to treat you with honor and respect and give you opportunities to grow.”