Teachers LEARN to Lead Atmospheric Science Explorers
BOULDER -- While they create "dinosaur breath" or work with El Nino experts, rural Colorado teachers are enriching their skills and developing new materials for teaching about weather and the atmosphere, June 8-26 in Boulder. The program is part of a national effort to improve science-teaching standards. LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR): Atmospheric Science Explorers brings 36 middle and junior high school teachers to the National Center for Atmospheric Research to experience the excitement of scientific investigation and develop into leaders who can promote and implement change in their often-isolated districts. Both LEARN and NCAR are sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"Weather and the atmosphere are part of every student's experience, so they provide an ideal framework for teaching basic concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and mathematics," explains LEARN director Carol McLaren.
The core of LEARN is a series of three summer institutes in which teachers work directly with NCAR scientists in their laboratories, gaining first-hand experience in the process of scientific investigation. The teachers also learn activity-based teaching strategies and ways to engage students from ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds in the excitement of scientific discovery. This is the second year of the three-year program, which is cohosted by NCAR and the University of Colorado Science Discovery program.
This summer's agenda concentrates on earth systems and climate change. Teachers will learn about concepts like the greenhouse effect or solar variability through imaginative hands-on experiments and talks by NCAR experts. In one experiment illustrating the carbon cycle, teachers and students take chalk (calcium carbonate from decomposed prehistoric sea shells), mix it with vinegar, and watch as carbon dioxide (CO2) is released. Since dinosaurs were roaming the earth and exhaling carbon dioxide when some of those sea shells were forming, the CO2 released in the experiment could very well be "dinosaur breath."
Most mornings begin with weather briefings based on current satellite and radar data, the same data used by professional weather forecasters. When they return to their classrooms in the fall, the teachers will have immediate access to these data on the Internet.
Three different day-long internships with researchers and practicing meteorologists round out the schedule. McLaren explains, "The teachers get to hear about the research from the researchers themselves. And the scientists get a chance to rethink what they're doing by explaining the basic concepts underlying their work. We've found that the interaction is exciting and informative for both the scientists and the teachers."
"One of the main things I honed in on last summer was El Nino, and guess what happened!" says Georgia Briggs, who teaches fifth-grade science at Ignacio Elementary School in the Four Corners area. "I was able to address a lot more material in depth because of last summer's workshop."
Donna Miller, from Platte Valley Elementary School in Sedgwick (the northeast corner of the state), is eager to work one-on-one with NCAR scientists again. She's also excited about getting back together with other teachers from around the state. "I want to hear how things went in their classrooms--what worked and what didn't--from everything we learned last summer," Miller says.
By overcoming geographic isolation and providing new resources, the LEARN summer workshops create a larger community for rural science teachers and stimulate the teacher-leaders to play a key role in implementing Colorado's statewide standards. "The content we offer meshes with the state standards for middle-school science, so that helps support the school districts in their curriculum development," McLaren adds.
During the school year, LEARN staff and NCAR researchers travel around the state, bringing follow-up activities to additional teachers, as well as students, parents, and administrators, in the participating districts. "It's really a highlight in the rural areas, where they don't get many workshops, to have the NCAR scientists there. Everyone asks a lot of questions and gets a lot of scientific information from the experts," McLaren notes.
LEARN is part of NSF's Teacher Enhancement Program, which focuses on developing leaders who can implement change in science and mathematics instruction. The LEARN teachers receive leadership training to prepare them to share their expertise with their colleagues. About 650 additional teachers will be reached through the in-service trainings, presentations by the LEARN lead teachers, and more informal sharing. "The LEARN teachers are having an impact on other teachers, and that's really exciting," says McLaren.
The eight school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services participating in LEARN are Craig, Grand Junction, Montrose/Gunnison, San Luis Valley, Bayfield/Ignacio, Sterling, Lamar, and Springfield.
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