The results are in, and the conclusion is dramatic: High school and middle school teachers – supported in part by AAPG Foundation funding – have greatly improved their ability to understand and teach geoscience concepts.
That finding is based on a comparison of pre- and post-course test results for a group of 20 teachers who participated in the online Earth and Space Science course offered by the American Geosciences Institute (taught by co-instructors Mark B. Carpenter and yours truly).
The “teach the teacher” course was designed specifically to help bring excellence in geo- and science education. It ran from in October 2019 through March 2020, and the inaugural group of teachers was able to participate thanks to scholarships provided by the AAPG Foundation and matching funds from the AAPG Southwest Section and its member societies.
The Foundation also supported the course itself, 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 the classroom.
Eighteen of the 20 teachers taking the course were recruited from seven member societies of the Southwest Section; the Eastern Section’s Pittsburgh Geological Society and Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists joined to support one teacher, and the Gulf Coast Section’s Houston Geological Society supported another. We plan to offer the course again beginning in October of 2021, and we will be recruiting from all AAPG sections and member societies. Funding will again be through the Foundation, the sections and the member societies.
At the beginning of the course, we asked the teachers to take a competency self-assessment and a 60-question pre-course test of their understanding of Earth science content concepts – and then both were repeated at the end of course.
That test covered the course’s major concepts and encompassed all of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards and the Next Generation Science Standards for high school Earth and space science. The results:
- The average pre-course test score for the high school ESS teachers was 78.
- The average pre-course test score for the high school science teachers (non-ESS) was 68.
- For middle school science teachers (non-ESS), the average pre-course test score was 64.
There clearly was room for improvement – which is why we were so excited by the final results:
- The average final test score for the high school ESS teachers was 97 – a 24 percent increase.
- The average final score for the high school science teachers (non-ESS) was 97 – a 43 percent increase.
- For middle school science teachers, the average post-course test score was 88 – a 38 percent increase.
The final course grade average for the high school ESS teachers was 93; for high school science teachers (non-ESS) it was 94; and for the middle school science teachers the average was 86.
At both the beginning and end of the course we also applied a 10-question survey to gauge their own assessment of their level of understanding and ability to teach foundational ESS concepts. Teachers were presented with a concept statement and asked to select whether or not they:
- Had ever heard of the concept
- Had heard of the concept but needed to learn more to be able to teach it
- Could teach it in their classroom
- Could teach the concept and also help other teachers to teach the concept
Again, the pre- and post-course assessments showed impressive changes in the teachers’ growth in confidence and competency:
- Before, more than one-third of the class expressed concerns about their ability to teach about the impact of natural hazards; after the course, 100 percent of them felt competent to teach this topic – and the number who felt they could help other teachers almost doubled.
- Before, nearly half expressed concerns about their ability to teach about the early history of solar system formation; after, all felt competent to teach this topic.
- Before, almost three-fourths expressed concerns about their ability to teach about the Earth system interactions; after, all felt competent – and the number who felt they could help other teachers increased from 5 percent to 30 percent.
- Before, nearly one-half expressed concerns about their ability to teach about the controls on Earth’s weather and climate; after, all felt competent.
- Before, more than 80 percent expressed concerns about their ability to teach about the basic climate zone classification concepts; after, all felt competent – and 30 percent felt competent to help other teachers.
- Before, more than 40 percent expressed concerns about their ability to teach basic geologic concepts; after, 80 percent felt competent to teach this topic – and 70 percent felt they could help other teachers (up from 27 percent).
A Word For Our Sponsors
Our thanks go to the AAPG Foundation for its support of this teacher-training effort, and to all of the AAPG members who participate with their gifts to the fund.
Obviously, the better prepared and more enthusiastic middle and high school earth science teachers there are out there, the more potential majors we will see in our geoscience departments. Another benefit will be that teachers begin to feel a stronger connection to the geologic community within their local area.
As some of the teachers said themselves:
■ “I just wanted to let you know how important and poignant this educational opportunity has been. With all of us going to an online format while we shelter in place, the resources provided in this course will be used by my students more than I expected.”
■ “This class provided excellent information … My thoughts on (its) value have drastically changed over the last couple of weeks. I found the course in general well-paced, thoroughly thought out and a good learning experience, I was not considering the course as a template for online teaching … Now I find myself considering what parts I learned best from and how I can mimic this as I create an online course for my students.”
■ “This is a discipline that, aside from education during my early formative years, I had not received a great deal of instruction ... This left me with huge gaps in my content knowledge … This is where this course has helped me the most. The lab manual outlined corresponding skills that students can easily do in the classroom.”
As for us, through the provision of specific and cost-effective professional development for teachers, we hope to improve scientific literacy in young people, who face a world in which they will encounter ever-growing amounts of information. Students’ ability to recognize factual scientific information needs to be nurtured and supported by well-informed teachers, especially in the Earth sciences.
Your recognition of that and your support for teachers is going to have an impact for many years to come.
(Editor’s note: Rebecca L. Dodge, an AAPG Honorary Member, is an emeritus associate professor in the Kimbell School of Geosciences at Midwestern State University, Midland, Texas.)