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What do you want your child to get from sports?

Leadership? Health benefits? The thrill of winning and the dignity of handling defeat with grace?

Think about what psychological and social skills you value and how those may correlate with success in all areas of life. How can you use sports to instill them? Don’t rely on coaches or other adults to do that for you.

Organized sports require your child to balance the immediate reward of a win and the delayed reward of a season-long championship pursuit. Sports can help kids face disappointment publicly and learn how to focus on process-oriented goals.

When the first question you ask your child after a game is “Did you win?” that shapes her psychological response to her performance.

If she’s a four-year-old chasing around the usual swarm of other kids on the soccer field, she doesn’t have the self-awareness, sport-related skills, or psychological development to make a clear impact on the outcome of that game. Yet you just framed how she interprets how you’re evaluating her performance in terms that are out of her control.

Instead, try asking her if she had fun, what she was proud of herself for doing, and one thing she thinks she could improve-–things that are process-oriented and generally under her control.

Matt Bowers helping his son climb a rock wall

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Which sport should your daughter or son play and why?

As a caveat, so much of the answer to this question depends on the individual coach and the league, but some sports clearly foster different things than others.

Do you want a sport that produces better physiological and health outcomes? Try ultimate Frisbee or cross country.

Do you want a sport that could lead to lifelong participation? Go for tennis or golf.

Do you want a social environment with more peer-led, democratic social structures? Try skateboarding.

Do you want to instill an American rite of passage? Try baseball or softball.

This isn’t a plug for a specific sport, but rather an opportunity to think about what sports can deliver based on their nature, their design, and their implementation. Look for sports–and sport leagues–that align with your values and what you want emphasized in your child’s development.

Matt Bowers with his son at the climbing gym.Matt Bowers researches the management of systems for athlete and coach development. He also investigates the potential supplemental impact that non-organized sport settings—such as pick-up sports and video games—may have on these development systems. Drawing from a blend of quantitative, qualitative, and historical methodologies, his research focuses on leveraging this understanding of settings to influence the design and implementation of sport programs and policies that promote both elite performance and mass participation throughout the lifespan. 

Text messaging and phone calls make it easier for new moms in Quito, Ecuador, to care for their newborns and for themselves. Results from research conducted by a faculty member in UT’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE) are driving new protocols for this population.

Julie Maslowsky is an assistant professor in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Her focus is health and health promotion for children and adolescents, in the U.S. and abroad. For 11 years, Maslowsky and her colleagues have conducted studies on ways to improve maternal and child health in Quito, in partnership with Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health.

In an ongoing series of studies, the team has examined various processes, including the continuum of care before, during and after hospitalizations.

Photo of Julie Maslowsky

Julie Maslowsky

“We identified follow-up care as an opportunity to improve postpartum maternal and infant health,” she says. “Great care was taken in the hospital with patients and their needs but once they were discharged, new mothers didn’t have continuing support.”

The postpartum period is a key window of opportunity for health education. Various health issues may arise after mothers and newborns leave the hospital. For mothers, recovering from delivery, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and accessing contraception are common concerns that arise. Mothers also need support in knowing what is normal and what is a serious health problem in their infant.

Maslowsky says, “We knew that mobile technology would be key to help solve these issues. More than 90 percent of adults in Ecuador have cell phones.” Maslowsky and her colleagues developed an intervention designed to support and educate new mothers via mobile phone.

The intervention had two parts. First, each mother received a phone call from a nurse 48 hours after she was discharged from the hospital. The nurse spent approximately 30 minutes talking with the mother and educating her about common postpartum concerns for mothers and their infants, including breastfeeding, family planning, safe sleeping, vaccines, fevers, and the newborn’s eating, sleeping and bowel habits.

After the brief educational session, the mother was then free to call or text the nurse any time during the next 30 days if she had a question or concern. In their most recent study, 178 women took part and were randomly assigned to the intervention or the control group.

The intervention produced significant improvements in health for mother and baby, which were measured when the baby was three months old. Compared to the control group, participants in the intervention group experienced positive outcomes:

  • Mothers were more likely to exclusively breastfeed their infants.
  • Newborns were less likely to have to go to a doctor for acute illnesses.
  • Women were more likely to bring newborns to well-baby visits.
  • Women used more effective forms of birth control, i.e. a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method rather than only a condom.

Maslowsky and her colleagues were thrilled with the results. “Our Ecuadorian collaborators are enthusiastic about the potential of this intervention to improve postpartum maternal and infant health,” Maslowsky said.

“We are planning the next phase of the study: universal implementation of this program for all new mothers in one of southern Quito’s health zones, which has a population of more than 400,000,” Maslowsky says.Group of people holding a Texas Longhorns flag

In 11 years, Maslowsky has traveled to Quito more than a dozen times. In a trip this spring, she was joined by Ric Bonnell, director of Global Health Programs in the Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health program. They are exploring potential partnerships for Dell with Maslowsky’s program in Ecuador.

Maslowsky is one of many faculty in the College of Education whose research extends beyond the U.S. Read about the international projects changing the world in Mozambique, New Zealand, China and more.

Huriya Jabbar examines the influence of market forces on the nation’s charter school environment.

Nowhere are charter schools more closely examined than in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city scrapped its failing school system. Today, more than 90 percent of the city’s students attend tuition-free charter schools.

Some of the hopes for increased student achievement have come to pass in this grand experiment—various test scores have risen and completion rates are edging up.

And most of these schools are doing what their champions said they would in response to competition: they’re improving academic and operational quality.

What’s surprised researchers, officials and parents, though, is the extent to which market forces and competition affect how school administrators find and admit students, how students with learning difficulties have sometimes been excluded, and how the changes have influenced the teacher labor market.

“New Orleans is the city where charter school success is being examined and defined,” says Huriya Jabbar, an assistant professor in the Educational Policy and Planning program in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education.

Jabbar has been studying the charter school system in New Orleans for almost four years and is a nationally recognized expert on school choice and competition among schools.

Her background is in economics and early in her academic career she developed an interest in how public schools compare to the private sector.

“I’m interested in how markets interact with government. Markets don’t create equity. So my ongoing questions are, ‘What’s the role of the private sector in providing social services, and What is the role of government oversight of private organizations in public education, like charter schools?’”

“The theory is that competition puts healthy pressure on charter school leaders to improve their academic services, programs, extracurricular activities, or some combination of those, to attract and retain families,” she says.

According to Jabbar, most studies of New Orleans’ charter schools have missed an important point. “They assume that school leaders are aware of competitive pressures and can respond in productive ways.

“When I began my research in 2012, I wanted to know what actually happens in a competitive marketplace of schools. Are leaders aware of their competition? Which schools do they view as rivals and why?”

Jabbar also asked, “Do school leaders respond to competitive pressure by improving their schools academically?”

The results of her research showed that in the short term, the answer is no. “Competition places pressure on schools, but the strategies schools use to compete are not necessarily those that policy makers expected,” she says.

Every Kid is Money

Advocates of charter schools point to the fact that if schools don’t meet the standards of their charter, they will be closed.

Jabbar’s research found that some did focus on improving academics. About a third “added what they call ‘innovative curricular programs’ to attract parents, which is what we want them to be doing,” she says.

But to keep their charters, “almost all of the schools began to engage in superficial strategies that don’t generate  real change. The other concerning finding was that one third of the schools screened out students, even though they were supposed to accept everyone.”

In one interview, Jabbar quoted a principal as saying, “Every kid is money.” Another said, “We all want our [student] numbers up so we can get more money, more funding.”

This short-term focus on keeping their charters and attracting federal and local funding brought in by students meant that charter school principals were less likely to strengthen academics.

To position themselves to attract the right students, according to Jabbar’s research, principals engaged in a “selection strategy,” meaning they focused on activities such as moving low-performing students out of the schools, increasing targeted marketing and advertising, or both.

Some schools hosted invitation only open houses where they dissuaded parents whose students had poor academic records and could lower test scores. Some chose not to fill seats left empty mid-year by students who didn’t return or who were pushed out.

They didn’t want to fill those seats with students who might have been out of school for a few months or who had moved from school to school due to issues like behavior.

Jabbar says there were also signs of “cream-skimming”—leaders targeting affluent or higher-achieving students for supposedly open-enrollment schools.

Turning Point

In New Orleans, the model for charter school enrollment continues to evolve.

The focus on marketing and creamskimming by the schools prompted change in the way charter schools enroll students.

Parents now have access to a universal application to centralize enrollment. Parents list schools in order of preference and submit online.

“In the long term, my goal is for my research to result in more equitable school choice systems”

Using objective criteria, the system then assigns a child to a school.

“When schools can’t directly enroll students, they can’t screen out particular types of students as easily. It helps provide equal access,” Jabbar says.

And New Orleans continues to redefine its role as a regulatory body when it comes to K-12 education. The city is moving from a free market experiment in public education to one where government addresses market failures and concerns of equity.

Future Research Questions

Jabbar’s research has the attention of local and national organizations. She partners with Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University to disseminate research. Her findings have also received extensive local and national press coverage.

She’s extending her research to charter school programs in San Antonio and Detroit where, unlike New Orleans, there is more competition from a traditional public school system. In the spring, she was chosen as a 2016 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow.

“I’ll be exploring ways in which teachers find and choose jobs in cities with high numbers of charter schools,” she says. “I want to learn how school choice and charters influence the teacher labor market because voluntary moves impact the distribution of teacher quality across schools.

“In the long term, my goal is for my research to result in more equitable school choice systems.”

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Pencil and BatteryKids are innately and passionately curious. How can teachers of STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—reframe their classrooms to fuel that passion?

The College of Education’s Center for STEM Education is recognized nationally for its research and classroom teaching. Its faculty and staff know that cultivating a passion for discovery produces lifelong learners. Center Director Victor Sampson is in his second year as the center’s director. An associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Elizabeth Glenadine Gibb Teaching Fellow in Mathematics Education, Sampson talks about the current state of STEM instruction and opportunities for the future.

How Can Teachers Improve STEM Education?

Victor Sampson has identified five ways we can change the way classroom teachers interact with students.

1. Create an environment where everyone is teaching and learning.

This is more than semantics. It is one of the fundamental problems with how we think about schools. Teaching and learning co-occur. If we remove the dichotomy of teaching and learning, we can recognize that students can also teach each other.

Students can teach the teacher. In my own teaching experience, for example, I would often ask a student to help when I had a problem with technology. The student taught me the solution. An effective learning environment supports all of these relationships.

2. Encourage students to investigate questions in their own way.

Students should have more voice and choice in STEM subjects. I advocate an approach where a teacher poses a scientific question to students in middle or high school, such as, “How is the strength of an electromagnet affected by the number of turns of wire?” Students have to design an investigation to answer the question, collect and analyze data, and support an answer with evidence.

It’s OK for students to fail at first. When an experiment doesn’t go the way you thought it would, it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn.

3. Let students follow their unique interests.

Students should explore topics that are meaningful to them. Meaningful topics are those that students themselves are curious about: Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? How do I contribute to climate change? What does it mean that my neighborhood is a “food desert” and why does that matter?

These require scientific and mathematical knowledge to answer. Furthermore, they are open-ended, in that an answer to \ one part of the question inevitably leads to another question.

4. Encourage collaborative learning across disciplines.

STEM fields are no longer isolated from each other. Breakthroughs are often the result of collaboration. As but one example, the paper reporting on the first discovery of gravitational waves has more than 100 authors. STEM is a social endeavor, and we should represent that to students as they carry out investigations. Ideally, students should see themselves as part of a community of learners and scientists, engineers or mathematicians.

5. Assess, Assess, Assess.

What works? What doesn’t? Assessment provides invaluable guidance.

Interview with Victor Sampson – Director of the Center for STEM Education at the College of Education.

Our good work with schools and teachers opens doors for us to create and pilot innovative curricula and then conduct research on students' learning using that curricula

How has teaching science and math changed in the last 50 years?

In many ways it hasn’t. In a lot of classrooms, students still sit at a desk, listen to the teacher and take notes. Then they’ll be asked to read a chapter and answer questions about it. They are consumers of knowledge rather than creators of it.

It’s the same with math. Students watch a teacher do math problems and then work on their own problems. Lost is the responsibility of students to engage with deeper principles. In other words, students are not held responsible for negotiating meaning in these situations.

How is the Center for STEM Education’s research translated into strategies for teachers?

The center includes a professional network of teachers called the Texas Regional Collaboratives (TRC). The TRC has grown to reach more than 10,000 teachers across Texas annually. More than 60 of these collaboratives are set up across the state and enable us to move ideas quickly to teachers.

We attend state and national conferences for educators. Center faculty have presented our work at the National Science Teachers Association annual conference, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual meeting, and the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching.

I have presented at the Texas Education Leadership Association annual meeting, another important avenue not only for disseminating our work, but also for improving STEM education. If we want to improve STEM education, we need to work with school boards, superintendents, principals, and educators.

When teachers use the center’s strategies, how do outcomes change?

Learning increases in science and math. We have evidence they also make gains in other subjects. For example, students who learn through the argument-driven inquiry (ADI) approach I developed with collaborators show significant gains in science proficiency.

What is Argument-Driven Inquiry?

Argument-Driven Inquiry (ADI) is an innovative approach to laboratory instruction based on current research about how people learn science, and includes recommendations for making lab activities more meaningful. ADI helps students learn how to participate in the practices of science, and use core ideas and crosscutting concepts of science to make sense of natural phenomena. ADI gives students an opportunity to learn how to read, write and speak in the context of science. Current research indicates that when teachers incorporate ADI into the science curriculum, all students—including those who tend to be at a disadvantage in traditional science classrooms— make substantial gains in inquiry skills, understanding content, and the ability to write in a scientific manner. It has the potential to make science classrooms more equitable and more effective.

Why is the Center for STEM Education important?

We are a hub for all parties interested in improving STEM education: teachers, schools, districts, policy makers, state educational leaders, and private industries relying on a STEM knowledge base.

We research STEM teaching and learning, evaluate other programs designed to improve STEM education, provide professional development for educators, and then share findings from these activities so that others benefit from our work.

We collaborate across the UT campus and are currently working on projects with faculty in engineering, computer science, and psychology, to name a few.

Richard Crawford, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is working with Stephanie Rivale, Todd Hutner and me on a project recently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). We are investigating a promising approach to integrating engineering into science classes. We want to create a curricular framework to help students learn science content, scientific practices, and engineering practices at the same time.

Catherine Riegle-Crumb, associate director for STEM education research in the center, works with Chandra Muller, a professor in the Department of Sociology. The NSF is funding their research on ways to increase the number and diversity of undergraduate students entering and completing STEM majors. This is important research, and I am very excited to see the results of their project.

We are also a national leader in STEM education. For example, Dr. Riegle-Crumb just finished a two-year term as president of the Sociology of Education Association. I’m an associate editor of the Journal of Research Science Teaching, the leading journal in science education. Carol Fletcher, who is our deputy director, works with people across the U.S. on ways to increase the number of computer science teachers in schools. These are indicative of the respect that the broader STEM education community has for the work we do.

What’s your next challenge?

We are very much focused on the need to improve computer science education.

We need to provide professional development to current teachers in both the content and pedagogy of computer science. We are well-positioned to meet the needs of the teaching force in Texas, thanks to Dr. Fletcher, who oversees these efforts. The center has gained a reputation for the high-quality professional development we provide.

Personally, I’m focused on changing the nature of STEM learning environments for students for whom English is a second-language. This is particularly important in Texas. There is a shortage of STEM teachers who speak a language other than English, and this tends to result in learning environments that are not very equitable or inclusive.

I am working on a grant with Rebecca Callahan, an associate professor of bilingual/bicultural education in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, to study ways science teachers can use the ADI approach. We want to help teachers provide a more language-rich learning environment for emerging multilingual students so these students can learn science at the same time they are developing skills in reading, writing, and English.

We have to find ways to improve teaching and learning in STEM with respect to the language needs of our students.