Workshop trains teachers to incorporate climate change research into classrooms

Just because school isn’t in session doesn’t mean teachers are taking the summer off.

A workshop was held last week at Penn State that gave 15 middle and high school teachers the chance to participate and collaborate with polar research scientists, educators and more.

The idea was to teach climate change information to educators with the hope that they could use the information in class curriculum and inspire students to take an active interest in climate change research.

The Arctic Plant Phenology Leaning through Engaged Science — or APPLES — summer workshop allowed participants to learn about the use of phenology studies in arctic regions to study climate.

It was held in conjunction with Penn State’s Polar Center and the Center for Science and the Schools.

“Using the Arctic as a case study, the teachers engaged in the investigation techniques used by ecologists to study climate change and its effects on the timing of plant growth and flowering in the Arctic,” Kathy Hill said. “These experiences will enable the teachers to employ similar methods in the classroom and in the school yard to involve their students in the same kinds of research conducted by ecologists working in the Arctic to understand how climate change affects natural systems.”

Hill, who led the workshop, is an assistant professor in science education and STEM outreach specialist at CSATS.

“Bringing teachers together with researchers from multiple fields, the APPLES workshop focused on discussion, collaboration and problem-solving — important concepts to impart on developing scientific minds,” she said in an email.

It included teachers from around the country — including at least one local teacher, Susan Braun, who teaches biology at State College Area High School.

With support from the APPLES team, teachers developed a research project to incorporate into their classrooms in the upcoming school year.

The classroom research included things they learned from the workshop, arctic data collected by experts, and it utilized equipment and procedures used by the researchers.

The idea, Hill said, was to get teachers more conformable using this kind of research in class curriculum.

“Teachers may be reluctant to teach about climate change and its ecological consequences for a number of reasons,” she said. “They might be uncomfortable with their own understanding of the material, or they might not have a thorough enough understanding of the methods used in such research to feel confident about teaching it. We hope to give them a better understanding of the science and its results, as well as the skills to do the same kind of research themselves, to alleviate concerns about teaching the material.”

Hills said CSATS has “extensive experience working with researchers to develop teacher professional development programs that allow teachers to experience and understand the nature of authentic research.”

CSATS faculty members understand that having teachers work with researchers directly can have a positive effect on their teaching, she said.

And the APPLES workshop did just that.

Hill said the teachers learned and executed strategies for incorporating research activities in the classroom.

“The MASTER Model is a tool developed by Dr. Annmarie Ward, director of CSATS, that portrays science research as a dynamic system of multiple interconnected investigations rather than a single, isolated experiment,” Hill said. “Teachers used this strategy to translate their learning of arctic phenology research into developing classroom research projects for their students.”

This was the first year of the APPLES project.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

APPLES project

“The teachers were challenged by Eric Post, former director of the Polar Center, and professor of Climate Change Ecology at the University of California-Davis, to develop a method for determining the percentage of plant groups currently flowering at The Arboretum at Penn State. Teachers learned experientially about the design of an inquiry-based plant propagation lab developed by Heidi Steltzer, associate professor of biology at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

Through inquiry-based labs, students engage in conducting research of their own design, learning by trial and error.

Russ Graham, Penn State professor of geosciences and director of Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery, provided a temporal perspective on climate change and how it has affected organisms in the past. Previous global warming events will provide some insights into possible responses in the future, but it is clear the rates of future change are much faster than the past. Dave Titley, director of Penn State Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk and professor of practice in the Department of Meteorology, engaged teachers in a climate modeling simulation relating greenhouse emissions to climate warming.

Using long-term observational data sets, teachers explored patterns of plant phenology in Greenland with biology graduate student Christian John, and experienced data sonification — an alternative method of data analysis, through the sound of ecological data produced by Penn State School of Music’s Dr. Mark Ballora.”

Kathy Hill, assistant professor in science education and STEM outreach specialist at CSATS