UTeach Dallas Project Spawns Partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife

Photo of author

By Milthon Lujan

USA.- The University of Texas at Dallas is partnering with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on a project that incorporates bass fishing and conservation into science and math curricula for middle schoolers.

The project began last year as lesson plans drafted by UT Dallas students as part of their training to become science and math teachers. The students were in a program called UTeach Dallas, where undergraduates earn their degrees in a STEM field — science, technology, engineering and math — concurrently with teacher training and certification. Many graduates go on to teach in North Texas schools and earn master’s degrees.

Each year, teams of those students are challenged to design science and math lessons that meet state standards.

Last spring, UTeach Dallas instructors added a twist to the challenge: Design a unit of lessons that could be used in the classroom to complement the Toyota ShareLunker bass conservation program, which is run by the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“This assignment was a requirement for our project-based instruction class, where students design a full curriculum unit based on real-world problem-solving,” said Dr. Kate York, a master teacher for the UTeach Dallas program and a faculty member in the Department of Science/Mathematics Education (SME) at UT Dallas.

“It’s been an incredibly fun project, and our students did an amazing job. But more importantly, our students could potentially end up with authorship credits on curricula written for the state level,” York said.

For more than 30 years, the Toyota ShareLunker program has collected and spawned 13-pound or larger “lunker” largemouth bass from anglers across the state to enhance bass fishing in Texas public waters. Once a lunker arrives at the fisheries center in Athens, Texas, personnel assess its health, take a tissue sample to log the fish’s genetic profile, and then spawn the fish. The goal is to continue stocking freshwater areas with more potential trophy bass.

“When anglers catch a bass that is 13 pounds or bigger — the big ones are typically female — we want that fish to come back to the hatchery so that we’re incorporating those genes into our gene pool. The idea is to get bigger fish,” said Todd Witt, education and outreach manager for the fisheries center.

Witt said he and his colleagues at the hatchery have begun seeing next-generation trophy bass who were spawned from previous lunkers.

“We can track their DNA with just a fin clip, and if one of those offspring comes in, we can determine who its parents were,” Witt said. “Early results from the program have been promising. The relationship we have had with anglers to collect the fish and now students to spread knowledge of the program is a fantastic model for how citizen scientists can help researchers advance our understanding of science.”

York and Witt, who met as doctoral students at Texas Tech University, initiated the partnership with UT Dallas. The hatchery already had on-site educational programs, but was looking for ways to expand that outreach to students unable to travel to East Texas.

Before the UTeach Dallas students began developing their lessons, they visited the hatchery to evaluate its programs and to go fishing themselves, which was a first for many of them.

Katie Donaldson MAT’93, assistant director of UTeach Dallas and SME faculty member, said the ShareLunker lesson plans drawn up by the students are interdisciplinary, combining math and science units that meet state standards for seventh through ninth grades.

“From a science perspective, they incorporated concepts such as genetics, biology, natural selection and ecology,” Donaldson said. “Mathematics aspects include fish size, scatter plots and statistics.

“The students worked very hard, and I think that’s because they knew they were developing a potential product for an authentic audience. They’re designing project-based lessons to capture students’ attention and to get young scholars excited about learning science and math.”

One of the student groups titled their sample curriculum unit “Math, Genetics … and Fish?” It includes lessons on selective breeding, how traits are passed from parent to offspring and bar graphs comparing regular bass to lunkers.

There was also a fish-catching game, which included magnetic cards with pictures of fish on them. The fish are all different sizes and weights, representing the ratio that they would be found in nature. For the activity, students use a “fishing pole” made from a wooden dowel equipped with a paperclip “hook.”

Donaldson and York introduced some of their students’ projects to Texas teachers last fall at the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), organized by the Science Teachers Association of Texas.

“UTeach Dallas students helped present these lessons, sharing information about the ShareLunker program and project-based learning with their future peers in the field,” Donaldson said. “The current plan is to refine the lesson plans and eventually pilot them in classrooms.”

The Toyota ShareLunker program recently expanded to include a new educational component called ShareLunker Science. UT Dallas’ UTeach program is one of two collaborators working with Texas Parks and Wildlife on that program and to develop curriculum content that incorporates the ShareLunker program’s genetic concepts.

Johnnie Smith, director of education and outreach for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said the department is interested in sharing K-12 curricula on its website and with educators across the state.

“We’re already geared toward reaching a school audience, through initiatives such as Project WILD, and we understand the state standards,” said Smith, a former middle school science teacher and administrator. “What the UT Dallas students did is a perfect fit with how we’d like to reach the public. It matches the science we do in parks and wildlife with our mission to conserve and protect natural and cultural resources across the state.”

Source: UT Dallas

Leave a Comment