UI hosts workshop for middle school teachers

UI Professor Scott Spak demonstrates a potential classroom experiment for the 24 teachers in attendance. Photo by Brynne Schweigel.

The University of Iowa is doing their part in preparing science teachers to cover environmental issues in the classroom. Professor Charlie Stanier and PhD candidate Morgan Yarker recently led a workshop helping middle school teachers develop curricula covering climate, weather and energy. While Professor Stanier was required to conduct an outreach activity as part of a grant, Yarker explained that the workshop went beyond the call of duty:

“Charlie Stanier received a National Science Foundation grant given to scientist who aren’t tenured yet, so that they’ll have money to do research,” said Yarker. “Like almost all NSF grants, you have to have an outreach component. I don’t know what most scientists do, but you don’t usually go to the extent of starting a workshop for teachers.”

Stanier and Yarker decided to focus their efforts on middle school teachers in order to help them adapt to Iowa’s upcoming education changes. Iowa is going to implement new state education standards called Iowa Core, whose goals include making middle school students more informed on Earth science topics, such as weather and climate.

“There’s the National Science Education Standards, but most states also have their own set of standards,” explained Yarker. “Until now, Iowa has been one of the few states not to have education standards specifically for the state that are above and beyond the national standard.”

During the workshop Stanier and Yarker avoided lecturing, but instead focused on activities and discussions that promote a deeper understanding of the topics. These activities included a lab project demonstrating the greenhouse effect where the teachers tested how CO2 , N2O and water vapor changed temperature over time compared to regular air.

“It’s important not to just give lecture after lecture after lecture,” Yarker said. “If they don’t take the time to sit down and think about how they are going to use that content in the classroom, then I think we’ve missed the point.”

Overall, Yarker felt the workshop was a success, and she’s eager to find out how the implementations of the new curriculums work in the classroom.

“I really was happy with how it turned out,” said Yarker. “ . . . Seeing what they came up with was really exciting – they really picked up on the key ideas that we were hoping that they would. They are really excited to try everything out in their classrooms next year. That’s really all we could hope for. We are also following up with them in the spring, so we’re excited to find out how everything went.”

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