Teachers Kayak the Trinity River for Hands-On Learning

A group of Dallas middle school teachers are still hard at work this summer, getting firsthand knowledge of science to bring back to their classes next year.

The teachers are a part of SMU's program on Research in Mathematics Education and enhancing Dallas ISD's education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Thursday, the middle school teachers jumped in kayaks at the Trinity River Audubon Center to identify wildlife and collect organisms from nearby ponds.

"We saw fish and animals in the water," said Stephanie Burks, a science teacher at Ann Richards Middle School. "We saw oxidation, we saw runoff, we saw a lot of things we tie in to our everyday school life."

The program at SMU focuses on middle school educators to help connect math and science to young minds.

"Highlighting middle school students and teachers so they can continue on with their STEM careers is really important," said Erica Simon, assistant director of SMU's Research in Mathematics Education. "We want to capture them when their interest is still high and they are still interested by the river."

Teachers who were on the trip Thursday said it was a memorable experience.

"Everything out here is an experience, everything out here," Burks said. "The water, the animals, all of that is science just giving them [the students] the opportunity to see what's out here."

Burks said it is important to teach students about the environment by bringing the Trinity into the classroom.

"This is where we're from, so why not show them what we have in our city?" Burks said.

The Dallas teacher said she had not been on the water in years – something SMU wanted to make sure the teachers experience on their trip.

"The firsthand experience of being on the water, feeling what it's like, so many of these teachers are from urban schools," Simon said. "They're going to be able to implement lessons that really engage their students and spark their curiosity."

The teachers spend 90 hours in the program with two weeks on campus. Before the trip to the Trinity River Audubon Center, the group went to the Dallas Zoo to identify animals and conducted experiments with building their own rockets.

Within four years, SMU hopes to have more than 200 middle school science teachers in Dallas ISD, or 74 percent of the district, trained in their academy.

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