Texas SBOE chair shares science behind fabled Iditarod race

Mar 4, 2013 by



State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill often must kept a firm hand on the reins during board meetings but tomorrow she’ll trade in her gavel for mittens and shout “mush” when she joins a dog-sled team for the ceremonial start of the fabled Iditarod race.

She will ride with mushers during the first 14 miles during the ceremonial launch of the 1,049-mile race across Alaska. The race starts in Anchorage.  Thousands of people are expected to line the streets for this iconic event Saturday. The official start of the race will occur Sunday from the town of Willow.

Cargill, an educator from The Woodlands who runs a science camp that attracts more than 1,300 children each summer, was invited to present Thursday at the 2013 Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators and will participate in the ceremonial start of the race.

Her presentation focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and related the activities to the race. “For example,” she said, “we turned on a blow dryer, pointed it upward, and predicted what would happen if a ping pong ball was placed in the stream of air.  It floats and hovers over the blow dryer due to the low pressure created by the rushing air.  This applies to the lead dogs in the race, especially on windy days or during storms. Those two dogs push through the air first, thus creating lower pressure behind them.”



“With a teacher’s creativity and knowledge, lessons in any subject can be adapted in a way that engages children and allows them to predict, engage in hands-on experimentation, and draw conclusions.  That makes it more real for the children and the room becomes alive with excitement about learning,” Cargill said.



Because of her support of STEM education, ExxonMobil, a race sponsor, invited her to participate in the kick-off to the race itself.



A number of race-related lesson ideas for the core subject areas are available at http://iditarod.com/teacher/educators-prepare-for-the-race-now/. Unique geography lessons are available because a GPS device is attached to each dog sled, which allows students to map the progress of each sled team as it travels across the state. The site also offers free lessons for math and other science topics.



Cargill also had the opportunity this week to meet with Jim Merriner, chair of the Alaska State Board of Education, and discuss educational issues.


Race photo courtesy of J.B. Brackin





Dear friends and supporters,

Thanks to those of you who made phone calls or sent e-mails to our state senators in support of my confirmation.  It is with a grateful heart that I share this with you:

Gov. Rick Perry has reappointed Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands as chair of the State Board of Education for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2015.  On February 20, the Texas Senate unanimously confirmed Barbara Cargill as chair.

The board and education commissioner oversee the state’s public school system. Cargill is a former teacher and has worked in science education for almost 30 years. Barbara’s passion for creative, hands-on science teaching and her love for children motivated her to found Wonders of the Woodlands (WOW!) Science Camp, which impacts thousands of children each year. She was elected to the State Board of Education in 2004, and has served as chair since her appointment in July of 2011.

Recognized as an innovative science educator who is committed to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) training, Cargill recently was invited to participate in the Iditarod Winter Education Conference, which is held in conjunction with the iconic Alaskan dog race. Cargill was also selected to participate in the Iditarod Ceremonial Start on March 2, riding several miles with an official Iditarod musher.

“I appreciate the Senate’s unanimous vote to confirm me as chair for another two years. I will continue to lead the board in its important duties such as reviewing textbooks and overseeing the revision of state curriculum standards. It is our goal to ensure that every student is prepared for college or the work force,” she said.  “I am also thankful to Gov. Perry for providing me with this opportunity. As an educator and a mother, I firmly believe that providing a strong education to our citizens is the most important service we can provide.”

As the District 8 member, she represents about 1.7 million Texans who reside in Brazos, Grimes, Houston, Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity and Walker counties. Prior to redistricting, she also represented a number of East Texas counties.


  1. 1.     Please consider serving on a review panel for K-8th grade math instructional materials, K-12 science instructional materials or K-12 technology applications materials.  We need you!  We have had a wonderful response from publishers who want to market their products in our state.  SBOE members may nominate parents, teachers, business people, retirees, etc. to serve on a review panel.

Look at the strong vetting process in place in Texas through which publishers may choose to submit their materials.  Why do we do this?  It is to ensure that our schoolchildren receive the best, most accurate, quality textbooks possible!

SBOE Textbook Adoption Process:


• Appointed work panels (teachers, business people, parents, etc.) review textbooks

• Samples are available to public for review

• Review period lasts 6‐8 months to ensure TEKS coverage & discovery of errors

• Time is given for online input and public testimony at State Board of Education (SBOE) meetings

• Strict rules are in place regarding publisher contact with review panels & SBOE

• Fines are given for publisher errors that are not corrected before purchase

This is the link to the nomination form.   http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=2147511994

**Due to the large number of publisher bids, the review process will most likely occur this summer in a “virtual” setting from the convenience of your home or office.


  1. 2.      Many education issues are currently being considered by legislators during this session.  One issue concerns Career and Technical Education (CTE).  Did you know there are 185 CTE courses that have been approved by the SBOE?   The options are amazing and include courses like Food Science, Engineering Design and Technology, Forensic Science, and Advanced Animal Science.  In addition, high school students may receive training and graduate with certifications such as:  Certified Pharmacy Technician, Floral Certification, Certified Veterinary Assistant, Certified Nurse’s Assistant/Phlebotomy, and Photoshop among others.  Students have many CTE options from which to choose to prepare them for success in college and/or the workforce!


Charter schools are also a big topic this session.  To clarify, charter schools are public schools and enrollment is determined by lottery.  I support charter schools and recognize the valuable role they play in offering educational options.


  1. 3.     I have heard from many of you about CSCOPE, the curriculum management system that a majority of Texas school districts have purchased.  CSCOPE’s governing body has voluntarily requested that the SBOE oversee a review of their instructional materials.  As Chair of the SBOE, I am appointing an ad hoc committee to oversee the review process of CSCOPE instructional content, beginning with social studies.  The ad hoc committee will supervise review panels composed of parents, educators, administrators, curriculum specialists, and other stakeholders, thus ensuring that the process is carried out in an effective, fair, and timely manner.  I will send out more information about the review process and how to participate as details are finalized.


  1. 4.     Good news!  Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams issued the following statement during a coast-to-coast webinar this week:  “The National Assessment Governing Board’s Mega-States report provides an insightful snapshot of some major successes in our state. The data from more than a decade confirm that the hard work of our students and educators in Texas—as well as those state lawmakers who have dared to build a public education system that aims high—is paying tremendous dividends for the future of Texas.

The gains our eighth-grade students have made in mathematics—32 points higher in 2011 than in 1990—speak to an emphasis Texas has placed on a critical core subject.  Along with mathematics, our eighth-grade performance in science in 2011 reveals Texas is on a path to meet the growing job needs in critical STEM fields across our nation.

Finally, Texas is proud to see significant gains since 1990 across demographic groups: African-American eighth graders scored 42 points higher in 2011 than in 1990; white and Hispanic students posted greater gains in average scores from 1990 to 2011 compared with their peers nationally; plus, significant gains were made by students with disabilities and students from lower-income families.


Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions, ideas or concerns (sboecargill@sbcglobal.net).  With so much going on in Austin concerning education issues, please invite me to speak to your club or group to share how you can help and make a difference!

It is an honor to continue to “fight the good fight” for the betterment of public education.

For our children,

Barbara Cargill
Chair, State Board of Education

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