Middle school Earth science teachers discover new teaching methods at Brandywine

More than 50 middle school teachers from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland joined Penn State Brandywine for the inaugural Pennsylvania Earth Science Teachers Association (PAESTA) Annual Conference on October 12 and 13.

PAESTA is the state chapter of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) and was formed in 2011 by Brandywine Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin and University Park Professor of Geoscience Tanya Furman, who also serves as assistant vice president and associate dean for undergraduate education. 

PAESTA was formed as part of the $9.2 million National Science Foundation grant, "Targeted Math Science Partnership: Middle Grades Earth and Space Science Education." Furman serves as lead principal investigator while Guertin serves as the current president of the organization.

The conference, titled "Linking Earth and Space Science Instruction to Career Opportunities," began Friday evening with a showing of the documentary Switch, which features Geologist and University of Texas at Austin Professor Scott Tinker answering today's most controversial energy questions as he travels the world exploring leading energy sites, from coal to solar, oil to biofuels--most of them highly restricted and never before seen on film.

Saturday kicked off with keynote speaker Heather Houlton, outreach coordinator at the American Geosciences Institute Workforce Program, who spoke about career opportunities and future employment outlook in the geosciences.

The conference had 12 technical sessions for people to choose from, including "The iPad as an Instructional Tool," co-led by Guertin and Brandywine Instructional Designer Matt Bodek, who demonstrated free apps relating to Earth and space science for teachers to utilize with students. Teachers were also provided iPads to use during the session.

"Half of the teachers said they had never touched an iPad before and now want more sessions and information on how to use iPads with students," Guertin said.

Another session featured one of Brandywine's own students, senior Eileen Fresta, who co-presented with Philadelphia middle school teacher Theresa Lewis-King in Cumberland Cemetery across from campus on "A Cemetery as a Site for Multidisciplinary Teaching." The session provided teachers with lesson plans and exercises to do with students with tombstone data.

PAESTA President-Elect Kelly Hunter, a middle school Earth science teacher at Snyder-Girotti Middle School in Bristol, said, "I think the first PAESTA conference exceeded all of our expectations! We wanted to create a true community for Earth science teachers where they could actively work together and make connections in their field. As we continue to develop PAESTA, we want this community to grow and extend beyond the conferences and workshops. With the help of Penn State, we are continuing to get closer to our goals for the future. 

For more information about PAESTA, visit http://www.paesta.org online.