The quality of geoscience education is dramatically improving in several K-12 schools across America, thanks largely to the AAPG Foundation.
In this case, teachers are the ones “going to school,” and the beneficiaries are their students and the future of geosciences.
These current steps toward excellence in geo-education started in May 2019 when AAPG Honorary Member Rebecca L. Dodge asked the Foundation to support scholarships for Earth science teachers in the AAPG Southwest Section, enabling them to take an online Earth and Space Science course offered by the American Geosciences Institute.
In fact, Dodge and co-instructor Mark B. Carpenter have offered this course through AGI for more than five years, with AGI contributing significant course materials and resource development expertise. The AAPG Foundation also supported the course, which met the Foundation’s mission to support educational opportunities for K-12 teachers and to support teachers in bringing more geology-related topics to classrooms.
The Foundation approved funding Dodge’s proposal in June, with matching funds committed by the Southwest Section and its eight member societies. Each partner committed to funding for two years, with the goal of recruiting 25 teachers each year across the member societies.
This two-year effort is designed to serve as a pilot project that can be implemented across the AAPG sections and regions, with participation of member societies across the country and around the world – and it represents a new model for the course.
Once the funding was approved, the recruitment phase extended began, lasting through September. Participants included:
- Eighteen of the 20 teachers taking the course were recruited from seven member societies in the Southwest Section.
- The Eastern Section’s Pittsburgh Geological Society and Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists joined together to support one teacher.
- The Gulf Coast Section’s Houston Geological Society is supporting one teacher.
Approximately one-half of the participating teachers currently teach ESS at the high school or middle school level. Other participants teach middle or high school science and joined to deepen their knowledge of Earth science, with the intention of applying it to their future teaching.
Several intend to work with their school districts to begin teaching high school ESS.
The course specifically addresses:
- Deficiencies in geoscience content knowledge
- The use of video resources in the classroom
- Experiences using Earth science lab exercises
- Confidence to find and effectively use reliable geoscience resources
Course participation is not restricted to those new to the Earth science classroom; it includes teachers with geosciences degrees and working experiences as geologists. This addresses a frequently recognized issue: gaining access to experienced teachers with whom to share knowledge and ideas and build lasting relationships.
Application exercises and demonstration videos prepare teachers to implement lab activities, Dodge said, and a weekly discussion forum produces a portfolio of shared lesson plans and ideas about best teaching practices and Earth science literacy.
“We ascribe an above average participant retention rate to synchronous teaching and real-time instructor support,” Dodge said. “Motivation is especially important, given that the teachers are studying after school for six-to-seven hours per week. Results from pre- and post-course testing show positive and consistent gains in pedagogical content knowledge, across multiple content topics and strands.”
“Importantly,” she added, “teachers leave with a far greater level of confidence in their ability to teach in both familiar and previously unfamiliar content areas.”
Only the Beginning …
Recent developments include a sustainable network among teachers and instructors to support classroom implementation, Dodge said.
Local geological society outreach committees are part of the network, serving as local geoscience content mentors; and the success of the regional approach that engages educational outreach units from local geological societies indicates that support is available for teachers from these sources.
Local societies have been eager to participate through an organized outreach efforts, with a recognized partner (AGI) who has demonstrated successful Earth science education for K-12 teachers.
A primary goal is to increase the teaching of Earth science at the high school level.
“It has been my experience that the geosciences are sorely neglected at the high school level,” one of the current teachers stated in her application. “Currently, courses such as the Earth and space science course are more often than not pushed on to teachers who have little background in teaching the material, when they are offered at all.”
“As a geologist who worked in the environmental field, I find this unsettling to say the least,” she added.
“As educators we are doing a grave disservice to the fields of geoscience by giving the impression that it is an oversimplified topic that has nothing to offer beyond seventh and eighth grade classes. Further, we are failing to inspire the next generation of geoscientists, primarily because they are not introduced to field during the high school years,” she explained.
“In the North Texas area we have had a high demand for individuals trained in the geosciences,” she added, “and I believe the need will continue for many decades.”
Thanks in part to the AAPG Foundation, the need will be met.