GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 138-12
Presentation Time: 4:30 PM


FOWELL, Sarah J., Dept. of Geosciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, P.O. Box 755780, Fairbanks, AK 99775-5780, KADEN, Ute, School of Education, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775 and DRUCKENMILLER, Patrick, University of Alaska Museum, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 907 Yukon Dr., Fairbanks, AK 99775,

Alaska’s rural high schools serve a predominantly (~90%) Alaska Native population. Although place-based Earth science activities have the potential to engage indigenous students from remote villages in STEM education, less than 4% of Alaska’s high school teachers have a geoscience-related degree. To better prepare teachers to design effective Earth science instruction that incorporates place-relevant questions and meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Education collaborated with the Department of Geosciences and UA Museum of the North to create the GeoSTEM program. Through a combination of online modules, face-to-face activities, and a mentored rural teaching internship, pre-service teachers master geoscience content, design and deliver place-based instruction, and experience life in a rural Alaskan community.

Since program launch in 2015, 11 pre-service and early career teachers have completed a custom-designed geoscience education course followed by a 1-4 week teaching internship at a village school. Face-to-face course meetings revolve around place-relevant topics such as topographic maps, river systems, dinosaurs and vertebrate anatomy, glaciers, and permafrost. To reinforce concepts covered in online exercises, GeoSTEM participants first complete hands-on exercises designed for secondary students. They then modify the activities in consultation with a rural mentor teacher in order to incorporate features, issues, and questions that resonate with local students.

Now entering its third year, the GeoSTEM program has successfully addressed the critical shortage of secondary STEM teachers in Alaskan villages; 64% of participants have accepted teaching positions at rural schools, and 57% of these have agreed to teach science and/or Earth science units. On a follow-up survey, these pre-service teachers indicated that they would never have considered accepting a position in rural Alaska or teaching Earth science prior to completing the GeoSTEM program. Principals at rural schools that host GeoSTEM interns cite increasing engagement in STEM as a result of relevant, place-based instruction, indicating that the program has already had a positive impact on rural K-12 students in communities without a dedicated Earth science teacher.