Building BridgesOn Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, the Center for STEM Education hosted its first Building Bridges: Creating Partnerships and Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice event, funded by a grant the center received from the 100Kin10 organization. The meeting’s goal was to begin bridging the gap between The University of Texas at Austin STEM faculty and researchers and local K-12 educators. With both communities excited about this new initiative, over 60 researchers and educators attended the early morning event.

Building Bridges“We are focusing on more collaboration within the College of Education and across the university, with the goal of functioning like a hub,” explained Associate Professor Victor Sampson, the center’s new director. “We are looking out into the community and sitting down with them from the outset in order to collaborate around problems and provide research that is more inclusive and responsive to them.”

Prior to the meeting, the educators completed a survey detailing their most pressing needs in providing highly effective STEM education to their students. Their answers were collated into five categories: Teacher Retention, Serving ELL and High-Need Populations, STEM Teaching and Learning, Project-Based and Real-World Integration, and Integration of disciplines such as English, Writing, and Social Studies with STEM.

Building BridgesAt the meeting, about 20 UT STEM researchers introduced themselves and their research interests, then sat at tables designated to address each of the topics related to the community’s needs. The K-12 educators were able to visit each table, speak directly to UT STEM researchers, and discuss how the two groups might collaborate on research to address the educators’ specific priorities.

Peggy Mica from Round Rock ISD talked with STEM Research Associate Todd Hunter at the Teacher Retention and Training table. Explaining her district’s needs, she said, “We want to help STEM teachers get the professional development they need to develop confidence in their teaching—confidence in STEM that they can then pass on to the kids they teach.”

Building BridgesNancy Roll from Bastrop ISD suggested that it would be powerful for teachers in her district to hear about the research from researchers themselves, so that they could have a better understanding of what research actually says about why they may need to modify their teaching of STEM.

“Improving schools and supporting student learning and teacher practice is what the Center for STEM Education is all about,” said Sampson. He added, “This event was an opportunity to open lines of communication between the two groups, and we hope it will allow them to create collaborative proposals and research projects from Day 1.”

The center will host additional events to link UT researchers and K-12 educators in the future.