A part of the SERC Teacher Professional Development Program Collection

Page prepared for SERC by Heather Rissler in consultation with Susan Buhr, CIRES.

CIRES: Earthworks Professional Development Workshop

Program URL:


Program Type:

Professional Development Workshop

Program Size:

25 In-service K-12 Teachers

Grade Level:


Sue Buhr, Ph.D.

Director, Education and Outreach. (Contact Info)
CIRES Education and Outreach

Program Summary

The Earthworks workshop give teachers experience with scientific processes using relevant content and equipment that is accessible in the K-12 classroom. The program participants involve new in-service teachers who have been teaching for one year, mid-career in-service teachers who may be new to Earth Science content, and experienced teachers who serve as mentors throughout the workshop. Participants conduct independent week-long research projects in small groups with the support of research scientists.

See profiles of other affiliated programs.

What was the impetus for the program?

Earthworks has been in operation since the late '90s. The outreach programs at CIRES were designed to contribute to the community and to engage CIRES scientists in making contributions to science education. Education and outreach at CIRES are based on the concepts of self-efficacy and outcome expectancy to increase teachers' content knowledge and confidence, and their expectation that there will be good outcomes with their students.

How is the program structured?

Earthworks is held at a field site, The Cal-Wood Environmental Education Center, where participants carry out their research projects. Teachers often choose studies that are interdisciplinary. Projects carried out by participants include studies of:

  • The ecology of a landsite that's being influenced by a nearby riparian zone
  • Interactions between topography and microclimates
  • The influence of acid mine drainage of macro-invertebrates in a local stream
  • The influence of climate on Aspen tree growth and morphology

Detailed descriptions (including project design, methodology, and project outcomes) of past projects are maintained on the CIRES website. A long-term goal of this project is to transfer this workshop model to other sites.

Who is involved?

Research scientists facilitate the workshops and include CIRES scientists, University of Colorado faculty members, NOAA scientists, and scientists from private consulting companies.

Teachers involved in the workshop include 15 new participants and 10 returning participants, who serve as mentors throughout completion of the projects. The returning participants represent teachers who have successfully implemented their Earthwork experience into their classroom.

How is the program evaluated?

The program has been evaluated through in-depth interviews following the workshop. Participant evaluations are also carried out each day, including open ended and specific questions, on their experience with the workshop and their existing classroom practices.

How can faculty get involved in this type of program?

Faculty from other institutions can participate as leaders in Earthworks workshops.

How is the program maintained and funded?

Earthworks was initially funded by NASA and is currently funded through CIRES. Scientists who participate as leaders may also have funding as part of the broader impact components of their research grants.

Hints for starting a program like this:

Sue Buhr (personal communication)

  • The model for this type of workshop is unfamiliar to many teachers and scientists, making it essential to have returning participants and facilitators who can serve as mentors.
  • Due to the open inquiry-based design of the workshop, be prepared to encounter some initial apprehension and uncertainty as teachers are designing their study and scientists are preparing to offer their support.
  • Pairing returning participants as mentors for new participants helps facilitate the development and implementation of projects and can ease the initial apprehension.
  • Good guidance is necessary to help ensure that participants design robust studies that can be accomplished within a week, yield results with useful data and conclusions, and model best practices for scientific inquiry.
  • A good retreat-like location is ideal for this type of workshop and a rich resource of scientists who engage in field-based research.

References and Notes:

Profiles of Affiliated Programs: