Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2011 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

From Professional Development to Effective Teaching of Environmental Science
Berkowitz, Alan
Co-Authors: A. R. Berkowitz, B. Caplan, A. Alvarado, S. Haines

Abstract: The Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy Project is building research-based learning progressions that describe how student understanding develops from grades 6 to 12 with regards to pivotal big ideas about carbon, water and biodiversity in socio-ecological systems. We now are exploring the question, How can professional development (PD) help teachers make productive use of learning progressions in fostering environmental science literacy? We hypothesize that learning progressions help teachers: 1) identify and focus on the important, big ideas and ways of thinking needed for effective instruction; 2) probe and respond productively to student reasoning; 3) select and implement activities that move students along effective learning trajectories; and 4) help students use experiences and evidence from the real world to build more sophisticated understandings. Our research asks whether the PD we provide teachers is effect at supporting these teaching practices. The work is taking place at four LTER sites: BES, KBS, SGS and SBC. Data sources include teacher pre- and post-tests (to gauge understanding and learning), teacher surveys, journal prompts, and end-of-year portfolios. Teachers report that their professional development experiences have positive impacts on their self confidence, their motivation to teach toward the kinds of outcomes that were targeted, and their skills in teaching. Results from assessments of teachers’ own understanding of carbon, water and biodiversity content suggest that this might be a limiting factor, but teacher learning gains measured and reported indicated that this can be addressed through workshops and educative curriculum materials. Portfolios from teachers in Baltimore reveal at least a few instances of each targeted teaching practice being implemented.