The Zebrafish Summer Institute (ZSI) is seeking to raise $1,500 to purchase aquarium supplies for 15 teachers who attend ZSI. Reaching our fundraising goal will allow us to equip and train 15 teachers, resulting in over 2,250 students across Texas gaining access to hands-on science learning in their own classrooms.
About the Zebrafish Summer Institute
ZSI is a unique professional development opportunity that provides a weeklong workshop where 6th-12grade science educators discover inquiry-based learning tools through hands-on experience with zebra fish. Because they share 70% of their genes with humans, zebrafish are at the forefront of biomedical research. In over 1,000 laboratories around the world, they are helping scientists understand complex diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy. ZSI leverages these benefits to excite students about scientific inquiry, and to help them understand the connections between science and the world in which they live.
Dr. Vinita Hajeri, assistant professor at UT Dallas and founder and director of Zebrafish Summer Institute in her lab.
Workshop participants explore how to use zebrafish in their classrooms to teach students about concepts like the stages of growth and development, interactions between organisms and the environment, ecology, aquatic biology, and genetics. Zebrafish are ideal for classrooms for several reasons: they are freshwater fish that can be found at local pet stores; they can be easily maintained in a classroom aquarium; and students can practice several scientific concepts while studying them — from collecting data and monitoring the tank habitat, to developing hypotheses and writing about their findings.
Founder, Dr. Vinita Hajeri has developed a curriculum aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for ZSI and directs the program with partners at UT Arlington and UT Southwestern. The ZSI has also developed equipment from recyclable materials, using accessible dollar store items to create homemade breeding tanks and aquariums while simplifying protocols to allow teachers to conduct real-world scientific experiments — bypassing the need for expensive, research-grade equipment. Additionally, ZSI provides year-round support to participants to bring zebrafish into their classrooms.
In 2021, the Zebrafish Summer Institute continued to thrive despite persistent COVID-19 challenges, and adapted to meet educators where they were, with hybrid instruction, support and resources. In total, 16 teachers were able to participate from 14 school districts all over Texas. Currently, 12 teachers are using zebrafish in their classrooms to impact 1,800 students annually. With your support, the Zebrafish Summer Institute at UT Dallas seeks to grow this impact on educators and students across the State of Texas by investing in several key areas.
Texas secondary science teachers, who each impact roughly 150 students per year, are struggling to engage students in authentic life science investigations. Teachers say they lack the knowledge and resources to lead real-world science investigations that spark students’ curiosity, enhance their understanding of life science concepts, and provide them with skills necessary for college and career readiness. Science teachers Marquita Rawlins-Muhammad (left) and Vicki Wong (right) at the 2021 ZSI workshop observing zebrafish life stages.
Given that 20% of the student population in Texas public schools are English learners, our teachers are further challenged to make science learning accessible to students from non-English speaking homes and backgrounds. TEKS standards require teachers to use 40% of their instructional time towards inquiry-based instruction where all students, including English learners, deepen their understanding of science concepts by engaging in authentic scientific investigations to tackle real-world problems. This is significantly impacting Texas students who are English learners: 69% failed to meet the standards for proficiency in biology according to the fall 2020 State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course report — nearly 20% higher than non-English learning students. The declining proficiency and interests of Texas students is influencing them to move away from higher education and life science careers.
As one of the fastest-growing universities in both Texas and the United States, it is imperative for The University of Texas at Dallas to spark an early interest in STEM, especially among historically underrepresented students. This will ensure a robust pipeline of STEM talent throughout the region, projected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow 8.8% by 2028. The Zebrafish Summer Institute at UT Dallas has cultivated the growth of early STEM education throughout Texas since 2018, by empowering 6th-12th grade science educators, using zebrafish as a teaching tool.
"As this was my first time to incorporate living organisms into my content, Dr. Hajeri and I conferenced many times about the benefits of students getting to witness biological processes occur in real time. Observing student discourse as they handled living organisms under the microscopes, some for the first time, has been rewarding."- Lucinda Quintana, 8th grade science teacher, Ann Richards STEAM Academy, Dallas ISD
"The zebrafish work that I have incorporated into my classroom has previously unmotivated students very excited to learn because they get to design their own investigation using this live organism. They are now able to ask research-based questions, collect meaningful data, and analyze that data in a relevant way."- Dr. Jamie Holbrook, St. Mary’s Hall
The simplified, low-cost/maintenance methods exhibited at the institute, enabled me to use zebrafish this year even though we were in a portable building with no official lab space. This was key in being able to implement the use of the fish at the public high school level where funding can be sparse. Our labs will be much more interesting and beneficial to students because of Dr. Hajeri’s efforts "- Will Stewart, science teacher, Olney High School
The Zebrafish Summer Institute Team
The Zebrafish Summer Institute is housed in the UT Dallas School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and is directed by UT Dallas biomedical scientist and educator Dr. Vinita Hajeri, who has extensive experience in training STEM teachers with zebrafish. The program is supported through the collaborative efforts of Dr. Jennifer Burr, Region 10 Education Service Center, UT Dallas Clinical Master teacher, Pamela Kirkland, bioengineering scientist Dr. Juhyun Lee at UT Arlington and the STARS team at UT Southwestern.
Since 2018, Dr. Hajeri and her team have worked to create an incredibly accessible program for secondary science educators with high student impact. Through their efforts, they have provided instruction to 24 educators and impacted 3,600 students as of December 2021. With philanthropic support, the Zebrafish Summer Institute envisions expanding to educators and universities throughout the state of Texas.
Follow our work
Learn more about ZSI and follow our work here.
Thanks for your support, each teacher that participates in the 2022-23 ZSI workshop will receive the supplies needed (pictured here) to bring zebrafish into their classrooms.