PALEONTOLOGICAL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCES FOR K-12 TEACHERS: AN UNDERUTILIZED OPPORTUNITY FOR EDUCATORS AND PROFESSIONAL PALEONTOLOGISTS
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.