Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants
David C. Gosselin
Professor, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Director, Nebraska Earth Systems Education Network (NESEN)
Pre-service Teacher Education and the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Introduction to the School of Natural Resources
The School of Natural Resources (SNR) was recently formed through the merger of the School of Natural Resource Sciences, Conservation and Survey Division (consisting of the state geological, water, and soil surveys) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Center. The new SNR will bring together over 50 faculty and combine programs related to climate, water, fisheries, forestry, geological sciences and survey, remote sensing-GIS, soils, and wildlife. This integration will build on current and existing expertise and promote the concept that to understand our natural resource systems we need to understand the interaction between Earth's physical and biological systems within which humans exist, interact, and influence. SNR along with several other departments offers five natural resources majors (Environmental Soil Science, Rangeland Ecosystems, Fisheries and Wildlife, Water Science and Environmental Studies-Natural Resources emphasis) within which there are currently 250 students.
Contributions to Earth Science Teacher Preparation
The current portfolio of the SNR contributions to the preparation of Earth Science teachers includes: <pNRES 299a. Earth Systems Science of Educators. This course is for students in Teachers College who are intending to be elementary or middle level teachers. In this class, students are introduced to fundamental concepts in the earth sciences and their relationship to the "real world." The specific student outcomes are that students develop scientific process skills, understand and apply basic earth science concepts, and collect and interpret information and data about earth systems. Many of the activities done in class can be used directly in an elementary or middle school classroom. Other activities are designed to challenge the students as learners. All the concepts to which students are exposed can be related to both the K-12 National and Nebraska science education standards. (Gosselin, D.C. and J.L. Macklem-Hurst. 2002. Pre/Post Knowledge Assessment of an Earth Science Course for Elementary/Middle School Education Majors. Journal of Geoscience Education, 50, 169-176.)
Nebraska Earth Systems Education Network (NESEN). Initiated in 1993, NESEN promotes the mutually beneficial interactions between educators and professional scientists and uses multiple strategies to enhance and expand education about the Earth's system in Nebraska and surrounding region. Since its inception, NESEN has grown to over 530 members. Membership includes teachers from 29 other states and Belgium, Nigeria and Greece. NESEN has been primarily supported through grants from NASA, NSF, DOE, National Drought Mitigation Center and the American Geological Institute. (http://nesen.unl.edu)
Accomplishments and Impacts -- The three programs described below highlight some of our experiences and what we have learned about professional development that have implications for both pre-service and in-service K-12 education.
Integrated Research and Education Project. Funded by NSF, nine earth systems research/education teams consisting of a scientist, pre-service educator, and classroom teacher worked together during the summer of 2000. From this project, we learned about perceptions related to scientific inquiry at the K-12 level, the pedagogical practices at a research university, and strategies for developing collaborative teams. (Gosselin, D.C., R.H. Levy, and R.J. Bonnstetter. 2003. Using Earth science research to develop collaboration between scientists at a research university and K-12 educators: Insights for future efforts. Journal of Geoscience Education, 51, 113-120.)
Process-oriented Environmental Change Education Workshops. In collaboration with Dr. S. Meyer, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, five workshops have provided professional development for 69 teachers (~ 7,100 students per year potentially impacted). From this project, we learned about the challenges related to creating interdisciplinary curriculum, the importance of curriculum planning time, the use of interpretative exercises for both expanding teacher knowledge and their possible usage in the classroom; and the importance of a flexible, collegial and positive learning environment. (Gosselin, D.C., S. Lowrey, and S.J. Meyer. 2000. Process-oriented Environmental Change CurriculumDevelopment Workshops. Journal of Geoscience Education, 48, 631-635.)
Professional Development Workshops for Earth System Science in the Community (EarthComm). In collaboration with Dr. E. Robeck, Salisbury State University, two professional development workshops were conducted to train teachers to use Earth System Science in the Community (EarthComm). Forty-one teachers were trained over this two-year program. From this project, we learned about the curriculum development process, issues related to the perspectives that educators and scientists have about education, the importance of collaboration and a shared vision, and the identification of the key components required for conducting successful workshops. (Robeck, E.C. and D.C. Gosselin, 2000, EarthComm Teacher Enhancement Manual. American Geological Institute.)
Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies.
The key to developing the Earth Science teacher workforce of the future is developing collaboration between scientists, education faculty and current teachers. Collaboration requires that a working relationship be developed in which the professionals involved choose to accomplish a goal they share (shared goal). Although the word is easily defined, developing collaboration is not easy. For those attending this workshop, we have a shared goal and have made improving the teacher workforce a priority. However, our colleagues/department heads/administrators/students do not have the same priorities or shared goals. One strategy that can be used to modify priorities and goals is to examine the cost relative to the benefits of changing the way we do business. There will be costs. One of these costs will be that people will have to invest time and effort to change and learn to educate students differently. Time will have to be spent communicating with colleagues from both education and science departments. At the university level, a cost will be associated with the development of a reward system that recognizes teaching, educating and collaborating in the same way it does other scholarly activities such as research. Another cost may actually be a trade off between hiring teaching expertise versus research expertise. In contrast to what is commonly believed, scholarly activities related to teaching and research require different skill sets. On the other side of the issue, there are clear benefits. These include opportunities to obtain additional resources from a variety of federal agencies. For example, NSF supports integrated research and educational projects related to understanding Earth systems, ecosystems and biocomplexity. Earth- and Eco-system topics are an integral part of most state science education standards. Teachers often do not have the experience or understanding that is necessary to readily incorporate Earth- and Eco-system topics into their curriculum. Through the development of new courses that use relevant teaching methods, there are significant opportunities to increase our credit hour generation by collaborating with education departments to provide training opportunities for current and future teachers in a way they have never experienced before. Another benefit of improving the way we teach is that it gives us the opportunity to inform many audiences about a basic premise under which many of us operate, that is, research informs education and education informs research. Without both, each will suffer.