Initial Publication Date: December 12, 2014

Offer Professional Development for Practicing Teachers

Jump down to: Best practices | Examples

Practicing teachers engage in professional development opportunities throughout their careers to improve their teaching skills, increase their content knowledge, and to receive continuing education units (CEUs) that can result in advancement. Earth science is one of many science subjects in which teachers feel underprepared, so they are likely to engage in a local professional development opportunity.

Identify Areas of Need

Even the most carefully designed workshops for teachers will fail if they do not address a need within the teaching community. If you are considering designing professional development opportunities for teachers in your area, it's a good idea to:

  • Talk to teachers and principals. What do they need? What subjects within Earth science do they feel least prepared to teach? What materials do they wish they had access to or knew how to use?
  • Become familiar with the science standards. Each state has standards that cover what students are expected to learn at each grade level. Many states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Familiarity with these standards allows you to target your professional development more specifically to what the teachers need to know to meet the standards.
  • Become familiar with the curricula. Many districts have science kits that determine what is taught in the classroom. These kits may be the primary way that teachers have learned about a particular content area. Professional development opportunities can focus on deepening teachers' understanding of the activities described in the kits and help them go beyond what is there.

Professional Development Best Practices

Consider the following best practices for offering professional development opportunities:

Find out what is already happening...

...through your institution: Other programs and groups on your campus may already be offering professional development opportunities for teachers. Partnering with an existing program is a great way to capitalize on their experience, their established audience, and any legwork they've already done to compensate teachers with stipends and/or CEUs. Talk to faculty and administrators in other science programs as well as education programs to see what is being offered. your region: If you are in a region with a lot of universities, museums, and scientific organizations, find out what kinds of opportunities they are already offering. This can lead to developing partnerships if you have expertise to offer that they don't have, and will also help you avoid competing with successful programs.

Partner with experienced teacher educators

Few geoscience professors have experience working with teachers, but they have a lot of skills and knowledge to share. Partnering with individuals or organizations that already have experience leading workshops for teachers is a great way to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Include research as professional development

Another avenue to engage practicing teachers is to involve them in your research. The National Science Foundation solicits Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) proposals similar to Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) proposals, and/or RET components can be included in other research proposals.

  • The RET Network, a site that compiles research experiences for teachers funded through NSF

Look beyond concrete outcomes

Don't be fooled: designing and offering effective and successful professional development opportunities for teachers is hard work that often goes beyond what is expected by an institution. Why should departments and programs invest in this strategy?

  • You will become a valued part of the community. Many institutions have community participation as part of their mission or goals. By working with local teachers, you show your commitment to this idea and become valued by your institution and administration. 
  • You can help your own faculty write strong funding proposals. Most funding agencies require grant proposals to include broader impacts activities, or even more specifically, education and outreach. Establishing a professional development program where faculty can tie the results of their research to the K-12 classroom teacher can help strengthen their proposals.
  • You can help your faculty with tenure and promotion. For institutions where service is a significant component of the review, tenure, and promotion process, professional development workshops provide an opportunity for individuals to participate in service projects in area of expertise.


Professional Development Examples

  • Bay Area Earth Science Institute (BAESI) offers workshops for teachers (grades 4-12) through the Geology Department at San Jose State University.
  • Teacher Programs offered by the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University.
  • ICEE: Inspiring Climate Education Excellence offered by the Education and Outreach Group at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • TeXas Earth and Space Science (TXESS) Revolution workshops, part of a program at the Jackson School for Geosciences at the University of Texas, Austin.

Additional Resources