As college freshmen, students often struggle with time management and study skills. Many have breezed through high school, accustomed to studying little and being allowed to easily extend deadlines for projects and papers. Dual credit courses in chemistry (ChemBridge), mathematics (Math Masters) and writing (SPURS) offered through DDCE’s Longhorn Center for School Partnerships enable high school students to earn college credit from the University of Texas at Austin, but also provide the students the opportunity to hone time management and study skills.
“Our program goals are two-fold,” said Dr. Kenya Walker, assistant vice president of Longhorn Center for School Partnerships. “We want to attract students to UT Austin, of course, but we also want to prepare students for rigorous college-level coursework.”
Rita King, a teacher at San Antonio’s Edison High School who is a six-year veteran of the ChemBridge program, explained why the program is valuable to her students. “Deadlines are set in ChemBridge classes–sometimes in high school, we slide deadlines to help students out. In this course, it doesn’t happen often. Quizzes and tests count a lot more than the students are used to; they realize that they can’t do extra credit and learn to turn assignments in on time. They are learning what college is all about.”
Through ChemBridge students may receive six-hours of college credit for two semesters of chemistry. Receiving college credit is a huge benefit for students at the 21 Title 1 high schools which participate in the ChemBridge program. The students are primarily from low-income backgrounds. Will Davis, a physics teacher from Manor High School and a second-year ChemBridge teacher, said, “Six hours of college credit can be measured with monetary value—it is a direct benefit to our students. It is also a lower-level college course and a higher level high school course that provides the perfect transition piece for students.”
Davis also likes the fact that students have the best of both worlds—college and high school, online and traditional teaching. ChemBridge is basically an online course that includes video instruction by a UT Austin instructor. Students complete assignments, quizzes and tests online but have the advantage of a high school teacher in the room to provide tutoring and facilitation.
Davis said, “I hear a lot of kids say ‘Whoa this isn’t what I expected. You aren’t telling me the answer to this.’ It is their responsibility to learn the material, so that is like college.”
Although the ChemBridge courses are chemistry courses for non-science majors at UT, King reported that some of the students in her class are science majors. “Most students now take chemistry in tenth grade, so having another chemistry course their senior year is helpful as they prepare for college.”
One way the ChemBridge high school teachers facilitate learning in their classrooms is through Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). POGIL is a learning cycle of exploration, concept invention and application where the students develop critical-thinking, problem-solving and communication skills while learning core concepts and developing a deep understanding about the subjects being taught. Students work in small groups with individual roles to make sure all students are engaged. The inquiry activities count toward the Texas state requirement of 40% lab time in the course.
The high school teachers learn to lead students through POGIL activities and hands-on experimental activities during the ChemBridge summer training. Teachers recently spent a week on campus being taught by Dr. Shannon Stokes, a lecturer in the UT Austin Department of Chemistry. They also had the opportunity to discuss topics such as student recruitment, effective strategies for providing academic student support and best practices in successful program implementation.
The ChemBridge program has been a true success. Most students— 92%—in the program go on to college, and 26 of the students will attend UT Austin in the fall. But perhaps one of the most important indicators of success is explained by Davis. “It’s nice to have students come into the classroom every day ready to engage.”