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College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2011 > K-12 Teachers Participate in Workshop on the Science of Climate Change

K-12 Teachers Participate in Workshop on the Science of Climate Change

Seventeen teachers from around Pennsylvania participated in a weeklong summer instructional workshop on climatology.

Science_teachers.jpgby Joe Savrock (August 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seventeen teachers from various Pennsylvania school districts participated in a weeklong summer instructional workshop on climatology. The Climate and Climate Change Workshop was held July 10–15 on Penn State’s University Park campus.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the Martinson Family Foundation and the Penn State Earth Space Science Partnership (ESSP). The goal of the ongoing project is to strengthen teachers' knowledge of science and to introduce them to approaches that utilize real data and innovative pedagogies aimed at raising student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“There is increasing emphasis on preparing K-12 students for careers in STEM fields," said Carla M. Zembal-Saul, holder of the Kahn professorship in STEM education and project director of the Martinson initiative. “The Martinson foundation gift allows us to enhance the work of preparing excellent teachers who have depth of subject matter knowledge, an understanding of scientific practices, and can support students’ meaningful engagement with science.”

The Martinson Family Foundation’s three-year, $525,000 gift to Penn State’s College of Education is supporting the development of two science courses for undergraduate non-science majors who are preparing to be teachers. The courses are then modified to meet the needs of experienced classroom teachers and are offered as summer workshops.

“These courses bring together big ideas in science with opportunities to consider applications in school settings, such as engaging students with evidence-based explanations in science and scientific practices, curriculum connections, science standards and assessments, the use of science notebooks, and the use of real data with students,” Zembal-Saul stated. “The courses and the research agenda associated with them inform the workshops for practicing teachers offered in the summer, like the one on climate change.”

The workshop’s participating K-12 teachers worked with real data and asked questions of scientists who are active in the field. The format allowed the teachers to get a realistic feel of scientific practices. It is hoped that combining the know-how of scientists with the expertise of teachers and teacher educators will ultimately support students in learning big ideas in science, as well as how science is done, and possibly encourage more students to consider careers in the STEM disciplines.

“This was a good chance for me to be a student and to build background knowledge for my teaching,” said Judy Kur, a teacher of grades 1 and 2 in the State College Area School district. “Sometimes I struggled with the course’s content—and that gave me a perspective on my students who might also struggle with content.”

Katie Bateman, a 6th-grade science teacher at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School in Philadelphia, said, “The workshop’s instructors were able to inform us of a new way to go about teaching science, getting students to answer questions and think about things, rather than just do cookbook experiments and memorize vocabulary and steps.

“With many subjects, teachers can get away with superficial knowledge,” added Bateman. “But science involves complex ideas that we teachers tend to shy away from, because when a kid asks a ‘why’ question, we don't necessarily have the answer.”

The workshop enlisted Penn State scientists who shared their cutting-edge research with the teachers in ways that connect to their curriculum. Two faculty members from Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS)—Robert Crane (professor of geography) and Tanya Furman (professor of geosciences)—participated in this year’s workshop.

Mark Merritt, an instructor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, teaches the content courses and was involved in the workshop. “The summer workshop was based on our Fundamentals of Climate Science course for preservice elementary education majors, which we piloted last spring,“ said Merritt. “The course is continuing to evolve this semester as we incorporate things we learned from the pilot as well as from the summer workshop. We are also currently planning for our next course to be piloted in spring 2012, which will focus on how the mammalian fossil record allows us to understand and reconstruct past climates.”

Next summer’s Martinson workshop is expected to focus on fossil mammals and biotic response to climate change. The participating scientist will be Russell W. Graham, director for exhibits for the EMS Museum and senior research associate, who plans to share his research on small mammal fossils from caves in South Dakota to illustrate how these organisms responded to fluctuating climates of the past. The course will cover the record of climate change in North America for the last 20,000 years.

The workshop is part of an series of summer science workshops being sponsored by ESSP. Other workshops have engaged teachers in the study of different aspects of the earth sciences, such as hurricanes, plate tectonics, and an astronomy workshop that is a collaboration between ESSP and Penn State’s NASA Space Grant.

ESSP is a collaboration between Penn State and seven school districts in central and eastern Pennsylvania. Funding for ESSP’s projects is provided by the National Science Foundation. For more information, please visit