Rates of Change and Deep Time in the Middle Grades Classroom: An Effort to Increase Student Understanding Through Professional Development Workshops For Teachers
Fredrick D. Siewers
Western Kentucky University
The nature and scientific measurement of geological and cosmological time are among the most misunderstood and difficult to teach concepts in all of K-12 science education. To address this issue, a multi-disciplinary team of geologists, astronomers and education professionals at Western Kentucky University developed a series of professional development workshops for pre- and in-service middle grades teachers. The participants clearly advanced their content understanding of geological and cosmological time and the implementation plans received clearly show a desire to apply many of the activities learned in the workshop.
pre- and in-service K-12 teachers
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:
Some understanding of basic geology and space sciences. The development of lesson plans for the middle grades classroom. Some sense of how to teach middle grades students about earth and space science concepts.
How the activity is situated in the course:
This activity was presented in two four-day workshops for middle grades teachers.
Content/concepts goals for this activity:
Determination of the age of the Earth and the age of the Universe, and the rates by which natural systems change. Organic evolution.
Rock, mineral and fossil identification. Determination of sequence of events and absolute ages. Astronomical skills include determinations of parallax, apparent and true brightness of objects, and determinations of light spectra.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:
Determinations of Hubble's constant.
Other skills goals for this activity:
Development and implementation of lesson plans in the middle grades classroom.
Description of the activity/assignment
The nature and scientific measurement of geological and cosmological time are among the most misunderstood and difficult to teach concepts in all of K-12 science education. To address this issue, a multi-disciplinary team of geologists, astronomers and education professionals at Western Kentucky University developed a series of professional development workshops for pre- and in-service middle grades teachers. The goals of those workshops were to 1) to develop teacher's content understanding of rates of change and the ages of the earth and universe; and 2) to provide teachers with materials, activities and teaching strategies to help them more effectively educate students about rates of change and the concepts of deep time. Two four-day workshops were held, with each workshop divided into two two-day sessions. Each workshop day consisted of a blend of in-depth content discussions, hands-on activities, and classroom implementation forums. The teachers were provided with all the materials necessary to implement the lessons learned during the workshops as well as publications pertaining to deep time and evolution. Teachers were assessed prior to and immediately after each workshop day and were required to submit a classroom implementation plan as part of their involvement in the workshops.
We have been successful in meeting our workshop goals. The participants clearly advanced their content understanding of geological and cosmological time and the implementation plans received clearly show a desire to apply many of the activities learned in the workshop. Ironically, and despite state science standards mandating coverage of concepts of rates of change and deep time, teachers find that they do not have the time to fully educate their students about geological and cosmological time. We are currently assessment results and are working to disseminate the workshop materials (http://astro.wku.edu/universe
The whole purpose of our activity is to increase teachers content knowledge about the age of the Earth and the cosmos and to understand how scientists determine deep time and the rates of geological and cosmological evolution. We also want teachers to be able to pass on this content knowledge at a level that is appropriate for the middle grades classroom. We want teachers to increase their use of hands-on activities and inquiry-based activities. We have conducted pre- and post-tests during our professional development workshops and we have conducted knowledge surveys to guage students' previous content knowledge. We have also received implementation plans from teachers describing how they intend to incorporate what they have learned in our workshops in their own classrooms. We intend to conduct classroom visits to observe how teachers are implementing what they have learned from our workshops.
Rock and mineral kits, fossil kits, rock cycle charts. Limestone chips and HCL for dissolution experiment. Doppler nerf ball for doppler shift demonstration. Spectroscopes for light spectra determinations. Printed materials on the geologic time scale, organic evolution, and the geologic and life history of one's region. Rock hammers, HCL and hand lens for field observations. All are easy to use and require only minimal training. Scheduling of professional development workshops around teacher's schedules can be quite difficult. Significant time and energy is required to present intensive workshops, particularly when a lot of content and materials are disseminated. One must be prepared to not only teach the content, but to provide basic needs such as food and housing. This requires signifant finanical resources.