A Scientific Method for Meaningful Teacher Training
By Laura Wagner
If you find science boring, you are learning from a wrong teacher.
— Richard Feynman, Ph.D.
Dr. Feynman need not worry about UHD creating “wrong teachers.”
The College of Public Service (CPS) and College of Sciences and Technology (CST) have a long, proud history of educating future science and math teachers the “right” way. And for nearly two decades, CST has offered another option for meaningful teacher education—this one specifically tailored to in-service middle and high school science and math teachers—the ASM Materials Camp®—Teachers.
The ASM Materials Education Foundation is the charitable branch of ASM International (formerly American Society for Metals). The Foundation is a non-profit organization that for 70 years has been promoting applied science careers for students and teachers. In this weeklong, hands-on lab experience, the Camp brings ASM master teachers together with schoolteachers in one of CST’s state-of-the-art lab/classrooms to participate in an “idea-generating workshop.” The Camp trains teachers to use engaging math and science methods that make the subjects relevant to middle and high school students. This year, the program brought teachers from all over the Houston area—and one from Monterrey, Mexico—to participate.
Ida Torres (below), a Chemistry teacher at Pasadena Memorial High School, found the experience energizing. “My brain is on fire with this inquiry,” she said. “We’ve got to get our kids re-engaged in the classroom. How do you do that? You have to get them asking the questions. And this program shows us how to do that.”
UHD Natural Sciences Lecturer Sam Sen is the faculty sponsor for the program. “By hosting this event, UHD not only provides a professional development opportunity to greater Houston area teachers, but also the opportunity for UHD faculty to network with local material science industry leaders,” Sen explained. “And it’s a chance to showcase UHD to teachers who can present UHD to their students as a viable option for higher education.”
CST Lab Director and Adjunct Professor Mehdi Esmaeiliyan supports the program by ensuring appropriate lab materials and facilities are available, as well as by interacting with the master teachers and students. “This event is free to the teachers,” he explained. “ASM and UHD cover the costs, but it’s the engaging content that brings them here.”
He added, “One of our current attendees told me he came last year and returned because each time he comes, he learns new methods and leaves with new ideas for his students.” Torres said she intends to return after discovering the curriculum changes each year. “I’m going to come back and bring some of my fellow teachers with me!” she said.
The idea to bring the Camp to UHD started in 2005 when UHD Professor Larry Spears (now retired) heard about a teacher “summer camp” at another university. “He suggested I look into it,” said Dr. Jon Aoki, who launched the program. Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences and head of UHD’s professional development for teachers in science research and curriculum development, Aoki was impressed with the camp but thought UHD could make it even better. “I engaged with the camp organizers to pitch UHD as host,” he said. “Dr. Spears and I showed them that CST had the experience, facilities, faculty, and staff to provide exceptional teacher training, and the relationship was forged. UHD became one of three host institutions in Texas for the ASM Materials Camp—Teachers.”
After 16 years of leading the effort, Aoki passed the torch to Sen, but he’s still a believer. “What sets the Camp apart is the quality of instruction and the relevance of the content,” Aoki explained. “Master teachers instruct the teachers on making math and science meaningful to middle and high school students by integrating concepts in the context of materials. These outcomes translate into teacher-created activities that are actually relevant and therefore meaningful in the students’ everyday lives.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.