Workshops Connect Penn State Faculty with Science Teachers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Penn State’s Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS) works to strengthen science and technology education in K–12 schools. One way CSATS achieves this goal is through a special science outreach program called Saturday Science Workshops.Started in 2005, Saturday Science Workshops are monthly professional development workshops that provide opportunities for elementary- and middle-school teachers to learn science content and teaching strategies from Penn State faculty through classroom-friendly activities.
“The workshop topics each year are varied to meet the unique needs of K–8 teachers and are often selected based upon teachers’ requests,” said Leah Bug, assistant director of CSATS. “All workshops are free for elementary and middle-school teachers. Many workshops provide teachers with materials to use in their classroom, and they offer Act 48 credit.”
“CSATS started Saturday Science Workshops to provide a professional development opportunities for teachers in Pennsylvania,” said Bug. “The workshops also offer Penn State faculty members the opportunity to get involved with education outreach and learn current pedagogical strategies in teaching and learning.”Kris Walters, a teacher in the Claysburg-Kimmel School District, said that science is not one of her strengths, but she always leaves the workshop with a feeling of accomplishment and a deeper understanding of the topic.
“I have seen this affect my students’ learning and their desire to investigate a variety of scientific topics,” said Walters. “When a science lab is set up, the students are eager to analyze, interpret, record and share their findings. They are then motivated to go back and try different ways that others conducted the investigation.”
Walters said the workshops have encouraged her to expand the number of science topics that she explores in her classroom and to challenge her students more.
Susan Stewart, a research associate in the College of Engineering, said she has taken quite a bit away from the workshops she has helped develop.“I’m excited about using more active learning approaches with my undergraduate and graduate students,” said Stewart. “I have also been more open to trying different approaches to teaching.”
James Kasting, the Evan Pugh Professor in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, has worked with CSATS to put on workshops. He said that he hopes participants bring what they learn at the workshops back to their classrooms.
“Some teachers told me that they enjoyed talking with people who are involved in cutting-edge research,” said Kasting. “That alone gives them something to talk about when they return to their schools.”
“Each session that teachers attend provides activities and materials that they can use in their classroom,” said Bug. “We have been including the newly developed Next Generation Science Standards in the workshops this year so teachers can also learn how to incorporate these new standards into their teaching.”
“Two State College Area School District teachers were so excited by a topic in their workshop that they are considering ways to revamp their curriculum for the year,” said Bug. “They plan to teach all of their required physical science concepts through the lens of meteorology and climate change.”“It has been a very valuable experience for me to interact with elementary- and middle-school teachers,” said Cory Baggett, a doctoral student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who helped develop the climate change workshop. “Part of being a scientist involves sharing what we’ve learned, so it’s rewarding to be a part of this process.”
According to Bug, the workshops provide teachers an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of teaching and learning theory.
Ann Poorbaugh, a teacher for the Child Development and Family Council of Central Pennsylvania, said that the workshops have improved her skills as a teacher.
“Attending these workshops reenergizes me and makes me excited to introduce science to my students,” said Poorbaugh. “They help me develop creative ways to engage my students.”
Bug said that one of the workshop goals is for teachers to understand the practices of scientists and engineers by providing them opportunities to think like a scientist or engineer, showing that science is not always straightforward.
“A lot of teachers are used to the scientific method where they follow the steps, get the data, come up with the answer and are done,” said Bug. “Science is not always neat and tidy. Sometimes we leave our workshops with more questions than answers, and it is okay if students do the same because it is all part of the scientific process.”
“Teachers are amazing people who go above and beyond for the sake of their students,” said Bug. “To give up a Saturday to attend a workshop is a testament to the dedication of Pennsylvania teachers and their desire to do an excellent job in their classrooms. I am glad I can be a part of helping make that happen. I love that part of my job.”
To learn more about the Saturday Science Workshops, visit http://csats.psu.edu/satsci/schedule.cfm
--by Kevin Sliman (May 2014)