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Middle School Earth Science Teachers Get Lesson in Plate Tectonics

Middle school teachers at the workshop
University Park Professor of Geosciences Tanya Furman (far left) introduces innovative teaching methods to middle school teachers.
8/1/2011 —

Local middle school science teachers explored innovative ways to teach Earth science at Penn State Brandywine from July 17 to 21. The workshop, focusing on plate tectonics, is part of Penn State’s Earth and Space Science Partnership. Funded through a National Science Foundation-Targeted Math Science Partnership grant, two University professors designed and led the program to introduce new and exciting methods of teaching in the Earth sciences.

Brandywine Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin and University Park Professor of Geosciences Tanya Furman worked together to create a curriculum with an accompanying workbook that focused on “earthquakes, volcanoes, the movement of tectonic plates and the history of plate tectonics,” Guertin explained. “Sample activities looked at the differences in volcanic activity in the Hawaiian Islands versus in Indonesia, addressed geologic mapping and examined the seal-level history in the western United States through the sedimentary layers in the Grand Canyon.”

Guertin and Furman created the workbook to guide the teachers during the five days of activities. It included maps, resource guides, helpful websites, classroom activities and challenging science problems and questions with authentic scientific data. The teachers also learned about Pennsylvania’s geologic history and the time of coal formation.

Participants used the campus’ computer labs “to access online discussion boards relating to the workshop and to develop new lesson plans based on the material they learned during the week,” Guertin said.

Furman said she and Guertin are helping to bring “content to context” so these teachers can be better educators and help their students fully understand Earth sciences-related subjects.

The professors said they received positive feedback from the participants and will host a two-day follow-up seminar, along with additional weeklong summer workshops at Brandywine and University Park for the next four years.

K-16 teachers interested in learning more about the workshops can visit http://www.essp.psu.edu/ and participate in the continuing discussions at http://www.paesta.psu.edu/ online.

-by Dave Serpentine

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