Pa. teachers go 'back to school' for science at Penn State Brandywine

Science teachers from around Pennsylvania participated in two workshops at Penn State Brandywine that explored new approaches in teaching Earth and space science. The two weeklong workshops, which took place in mid-July, covered astronomy and plate tectonics and were funded through the National Science Foundation's Targeted Math Science Partnership (MSP) program as part of Penn State's Earth and Space Science Partnership.

Penn State Senior Lecturer in Astronomy Chris Palma, Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of Physics and Astrophysics Tim Lawlor and Bellwood-Antis High School Physics Teacher Alice Flarend led the first workshop demonstrating how middle school teachers can better educate their students when teaching astronomy. The experience allowed teachers to stay current with science data that will aid in the student learning process.

The astronomy workshop was added this summer by Penn State Brandywine to the existing Earth science seminars that have been held on the campus since 2009.   

"The idea is to show the teachers the resources that are out there so they can bring them into the classroom and use them to teach their students," said Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin. "Teachers are the key to not only teaching students the content but to getting students excited to learn even more about Earth and space science."

One resource that participants were given the chance to work with was the innovative computer program called Starry Night, which "is a planetarium program that shows you the sky in real time, at any time," explained Lawlor. These progressive technologies learned at Brandywine can be used in middle school classrooms to make the process of learning science more engaging and fun for students. 

The second week of workshops covered plate tectonics and was led by Guertin and Penn State geoscience colleagues. Participants had the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge about volcanoes, mountains and earthquakes and were "introduced to authentic data sets, and the technological tools to use that data for their teaching and student learning," she said. 

Wally Wilkinson, a sixth grade science teacher at Northwest Middle School in Reading, participated in both workshops. He explained he wanted to participate in the sessions because he had a desire to learn more about astronomy and plate tectonics; however, he learned several new teaching methods along the way. "What we learn is another tool in your toolbox that you can use for teaching," said Wilkinson. "Our students are always changing ? you have to figure out new ways to engage them."

Members from both workshops were assigned reading material and viewed videos to help them develop an essential understanding of the information that would be covered in the seminars. Participants also brought samples of their existing curricular materials and student work that they shared and improved. 

To learn more about the workshops at Penn State Brandywine, visit online.