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Teaching Environmental Sciences tours Big Thicket

Teaching EnvironmentalLamar University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences 19th annual Teaching Environmental Science summer institute introduces Southeast Texas EC-12th grade teachers to local environmental issues through first-hand experiences. The 10-day field institute is offered in conjunction with the Region 5 Science Collaborative, local industries, state and federal agencies, and environmental non-governmental organizations.  Since its inception, more than 150,000 Texas students have taken courses from teachers who have experienced the institute. 

Using canoes, the participants toured the Neches River, Pine Island Bayou and Cook’s Lake on July 15 to perform water testing for pH levels, ammonia and nitrates and stream water quality.

"We have given the teachers water testing kits to use in their classrooms, so we want them to learn how to use them on-site and analyze the quality of the river in its current state,” said Jim Westgate, professor of earth and space sciences.  “Each teacher would then show their students how to analyze water, adopt a stream near their school, and then be able to check the stream quality near them.  It's a way to get them outdoors and look at the diversity in the Big Thicket National Preserve."

During the program, the teachers explored and/or studied environmental impact of hazardous waste disposal, pollution prevention and wastewater treatment in the petrochemical industry, wetland and estuarine ecosystems, and air, water, and solid waste management in the pulp and paper industry.  The teachers explored other environmental habitats in the Golden Triangle, including the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center and the Big Thicket National Preserve.

"We benefit by being able to take it back into our classroom and expose our students to a real world situation that they don't normally have exposure to,” said Jennifer Knapp, a teacher at Little Cypress Junior High.  “Most of the time we don't even know what's going on in our own backyard. Worksheets don't hook them, but hands-on research does."

The Lamar University TES Institute has received international, national and statewide exposure through presentations at numerous venues. These have included conferences of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (2006), National Science Teachers Association (2003 & 2005), North American Association for Environmental Education (2002 & 2003), Science Teachers Association of Texas (2001-2004), Texas Academy of Science (2002, 2003, & 2005), and the Texas Environmental Educators Partnership (2002).