Increasing Geoscience Understanding through a Hazards-Based Workshop for Science Teachers

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Monday, 5 January 2015
Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State Univ., Mississippi State, MS; and R. Clary, M. E. Brown, and J. Diaz-Ramirez

As part of a multi-year effort to enhance diversity in the geosciences, a summer workshop was held for Mississippi middle and high schools science teachers. Several reasons given for underrepresentation of minorities in the geosciences relate back to teachers. Earth science teachers are more likely to be teaching out of field than teachers in other STEM subjects (Seastrom et al., 2002, Lewis and Baker, 2010). Geoscience careers are also hindered by a lower awareness of them. Science teachers, much like the population, have reported less knowledge of geoscience careers than careers associated with more prominent subjects such as biology (Sherman-Morris et al., 2013). To enhance science teachers' geoscience knowledge, a 3-day workshop was held on the Mississippi State University campus during June, 2014. Based on previous surveys with middle school students that indicated extreme geology and extreme weather events were areas of high interest, a hazards theme was chosen. One day each was spent focusing on meteorological, geological and hydrological hazards with other cross-hazard activities throughout the workshop. Faculty provided content primarily through hands-on activities the teachers could use in their classrooms. The goal was for the teachers to utilize these activities in their classrooms in the 2014/2015 school year or to encourage them to bring their students on campus to participate in some of the same activities. Some activities included digging for fossils in a campus outcrop of Prairie Bluff Chalk, soil and watershed activities and water quality analysis in the Civil and Environmental Engineering laboratories, and weather activities illustrating density differences, lightning, hail size, and tornado distribution.

The majority of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the workshop helped them gain new knowledge in geology, meteorology, and hydrology, that they plan to incorporate workshop material in their lesson planning, and that they improved their knowledge of the geoscience topics. When asked about their favorite part of the workshop, an equal percentage of participants (25%) cited geology activities and meteorology activities. Three out of 16 participants (18.8%) listed the hydrology activities. Negative comments were made about the geocache (especially emphasizing the heat) and the level of the material in the hydrology activity (not in-depth enough). Survey results agreed with previous work that this group of science teachers also did not highly rate their knowledge about geoscience careers. When asked four questions about geoscience careers, only “I think it would be easy to find a job in the geosciences” recorded equal agreement and disagreement (31.3%). Over half disagreed or disagreed strongly with statements that they “know what classes [their] students would have to take to become a geoscientist” (62.5%), “know a lot about possible careers in the geosciences” (62.5%), and that they “have a good idea of what geoscientists do at work” (56.3%).

In addition to short answer and drawing questions about geology, hydrology and meteorology, this year's workshop participants also responded to several questions about hazards in general. The first question asked participants to “name some natural hazards people experience around the world.” All responses that were natural hazards were recorded. From the pre-test to the post-test, the number of responses increased from 86 to 99. The most frequently mentioned hazards were weather hazards, tornado and hurricane, followed by two geologic hazards, earthquake and volcano. Hazards that were discussed during the workshop increased, while mentions of most other hazards decreased. The biggest increase was with recognition of hail as a hazard. No participant listed hail as a natural hazard in the pre-test, but eight listed it in the post-test. Finally, participants were asked to describe a lesson in which they have used a natural hazard to teach part of their content standards. All but one participant provided an example. Most of the responses were related to weather hazards (10 of 15). Several of these responses described activities relating to weather in general and not necessarily hazardous weather. Earthquakes and sinkholes were the only geologic hazards specified. That only two teachers taught Earth Science suggests that hazards, and specifically weather hazards may be incorporated into lessons during other science classes as a way to increase awareness of and possibly interest in both hazards, and the geosciences.

Lewis, E. B., and Baker, D. R. 2010. A call for a new geoscience education research agenda. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47: 121–129

Seastrom, M. M., Gruber, K. J., Henke, R., McGrath, D. J., and Cohen, B. A. 2002. Qualifications of the Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out-of-Field Teaching, 1987-88 to 1999-2000. Statistical Analysis Report. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Educational Statistics (Retrieved December 15, 2011 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003604_1.pdf#page=12

Sherman-Morris, K., Brown, M.E., Dyer, J.L., McNeal, K.S., Rodgers, J.C. 2013. Teachers' geoscience career knowledge and implications for enhancing diversity in the geosciences, Journal of Geoscience Education. 61: 326-333