LU News Archive

LU professor leads workshops in Palestine

Students examine fossilLamar University's Jim Westgate spent 10 days in Palestine conducting paleontology and rock workshops for 5th and 6th grade students and science teachers in a trip funded by the A. M. Qattan Foundation.

Westgate, who is University Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, led workshops in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho, and visited Old Jerusalem.

The opportunity originated when Westgate participated in a 2012 Hands On Science International conference in Turkey as its keynote speaker. "From that I was invited to come be a part of the teachers exchange program sponsored by the Walid and Helen Science Education Project at the Qattan Center for Educational Research and Development a program of the A.M. Qattan Foundation," Westgate said, "in part because of my background with the Teaching Environmental Science program and the JASON Project at Lamar."

Westgate's presentation materials and lectures were translated into Arabic.

"On the first day, I presented an all-day workshop for teachers of the 5th through 10th grade, primarily on paleontology and mineral and rock identification," he said. Then Westgate joined the participant teachers in presenting the information in all-day activities in their classrooms, as the teachers themselves became facilitator.

Group in BethlehemOn the second day, about 50 students from Ramallah brought fossils they had collected through a science-learning project in their local areas. "Together we spent time looking at their unknowns," Westgate said. He found that the fossils represented the same seaway and time period as the limestone fossils in the Austin, Texas, area and therefore were quite familiar to him.

"I was able to share with them the paleoecology of their area 90 million years ago," he said describing tropical seas from the samples they examined.

The third day Westgate presented another teacher workshop on geology in Jericho near the Dead Sea, where they examined a geologic map of Palestine. "It is actually a fairly simple area geologically in part because it is not very large," Westgate said.

After traveling to Bethlehem, Westgate worked with students in the villages of the area helping facilitate activities each teacher wanted to do. In one instance, a group of students gathered samples from limestone outcrops near their school. "They were extremely enthusiastic,"  Westgate said.

Samar Kirresh, the senior researcher at the project and leader of the Teacher Empowerment Program believed that "There appeared to be a necessity for developing the teachers' knowledge and experience in the topics James was able to cover. Paleontology, rocks and minerals are not covered in depth during teacher preparation or in teacher development programs.

Westgate with group"The program allowed the students to get in direct interaction with a scientist," she said. "This experience is expected to build up positive attitudes to and engagement with science and scientists."

The A.M. Qattan Foundation is an independent, Palestinian not-for-profit developmental organization founded in 1993. It is registered in the UK as a charity. A branch of the Foundation is registered in Palestine as a non-profit organization.

The Qattan Centre for Educational Research and Development (QCERD) is a main program of the A.M. Qattan Foundation. The Centre is committed to promoting standards of excellence in school-based education, through applied research and professional development for teachers.

The Walid and Helen Kattan Science Education Project is a project within QCERD since 2011. The Project aims at improving the quality of science education in Palestine's schools, promoting science literacy, contributing to research in the field of science education and promoting dialogue about science education in Palestine. The project's goals are achieved through three main programs; the Teacher Empowerment Program, the Informal Science Education Program and the Research Program, all directed towards empowering teachers and children in the fields of science and technology.

Westgate, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, served as president of the Texas Academy of Sciences in 1999-2000 and received its outstanding services award in 2008. He has accrued 24 years of service as a Lamar University professor of Earth and Space Sciences.

Since 2001, Westgate has served as science advisor and associate director of the JASON Alliance of Southeast Texas. Each year the project attracts around 10,000 students and 200 science teachers to the Lamar campus. For 18 years, Westgate served as science advisor for Teaching Environmental Science in the Three Rivers Watersheds and Wetlands K-12 Teacher Institute that always includes field trips on the Neches River and Village Creek.

In 2011, Westgate received the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award for his dedication to the teaching profession and his outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievements. Westgate has received more than 45 grants, authored a book, four book chapters, published 31 research articles and 84 peer-reviewed articles.