Texas secondary science teachers, who each impact ~150 students per year, are struggling to engage students in real-world science investigations that spark students’ curiosity, enhance their understanding of science concepts and provide them with skills necessary for college readiness.
The Zebrafish Summer Institute (ZSI) is a program that utilizes zebrafish, a small freshwater fish at the forefront of biomedical research and commonly found in pet shops. These fish share 70% of their genes with humans and are used by scientists to study various diseases, including cancer and muscular dystrophy. Zebrafish are easily maintained in a classroom aquarium and breed easily, giving large numbers of see-through embryos, making them a perfect model to spark children’s interest in science. The ZSI aims to empower teachers to use zebrafish in their science teaching by igniting students’ curiosity and providing opportunities for real-world scientific investigations. Every summer, the ZSI trains 15 secondary science teachers in a three-day hybrid workshop followed by a year-long support program to enable them to take zebrafish to their classrooms.
Currently, 30 secondary science teachers from Texas and beyond are impacting approximately 4,100 students. The ZSI provides year-round support to all teachers with fish stocks, classroom supplies and reagent support. The funds raised will enable the institute to offer continued support to all these teachers. By incorporating zebrafish into their lessons, these teachers are able to provide hands-on experience that brings science concepts to life, ignites students’ curiosity, encourages them to participate in real-world experiments and prepares them for college and career readiness.
Science teachers Marquita Rawlins-Muhammad (left) and Vicki Wong (right) at the 2021 ZSI workshop observing zebrafish life stages
Out Teacher's Testimony:
"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 excite my students, give them something long-term, as a living organism in class to take care of and be responsible for, and teach them to explain and explore many biological concepts from one inexpensive organism! - Tim Sears UT RGV UTEACH Program
About the Zebrafish Summer Institute:
The Zebrafish Summer Institute (ZSI) is a transformative initiative aimed at revitalizing science education in Texas secondary schools. ZSI is committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists and creating a more diverse and inclusive STEM community. Traditional teaching methods often fail to inspire curiosity or provide practical scientific skills, creating barriers to STEM success, particularly among historically underrepresented student populations. The ZSI is directed by biomedical scientist and educator, Dr. Vinita Hajeri in collaboration with UT Arlington, the STARS team at UT Southwestern, and Region 10.
You can learn more about ZSI at https://labs.utdallas.edu/hajeri/professional-development/ and https://news.utdallas.edu/campus-community/zebrafish-institute-2021/