GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 175-5
Presentation Time: 2:35 PM


BULINSKI, Katherine, Department of Environmental Studies, Bellarmine University, 2001 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205 and GOLDSTEIN, Alan, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Falls of the Ohio State Park, 201 W Riverside Dr, Clarksville, IN 47129

Earth science is taught at several key points in the K-12 curriculum, yet many teachers have only experienced a minimal level of geological education. For this reason, many K-12 science teachers report that they do not feel fully equipped to teach various aspects of earth science. Further, many professional development opportunities for teachers are more pedagogical in nature, so the opportunities for teachers to gain content-area training in the earth sciences is limited to specialized programming offered at select museums, parks, or universities.

Since 2015, the authors have been running a paleontology-themed professional development workshop for teachers. As a part of this effort, data were collected from over 70 teacher participants about their level of teaching experience with five different subject matters related to the earth sciences (rocks, minerals, evolution, the fossil record, and geologic time) according to the grade level which they teach. High school science teachers reported a higher level of experience teaching all five of these topics when compared to elementary teachers (K-5), despite the fact that several of these topics are more likely to be encountered in the elementary school curriculum. The difference was statistically-significantly different when comparing elementary vs. high school teachers (on a scale of 1-10 from least to most experience) with teaching evolution (2.67 ±0.77 vs 7.8 ±1.17), the fossil record (3.19 ±0.77 vs. 6.6± 1.34) and geologic time (2.89± 0.79 vs. 7 ± 1.24). Middle grade (6-8) educators typically reported experience levels slightly lower than that of high school teachers, but still statistically significantly higher than elementary teachers.

These differences in self-reported levels of teaching experience are not unexpected, given that middle and high school educators take more science courses as a part of their teaching degrees than that of elementary teachers. Nevertheless, this educational gap illustrates a need for content-focused professional development opportunities, especially for K-5 educators. Professional development paleontology programs present an opportunity not only for the participating teachers but also for the professional geologists and paleontologists involved in these endeavors. Their education and outreach efforts can play a small but important role in getting young children excited about the science of paleontology.