NSF Grant Will Help Earth Science Teachers

Earth science project

SUNY Oneonta has received a $354,439 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support an engineering and science education project that, according to participating students and professors, has already had a positive impact.

The project, titled “Authentic Research Experiences for Earth Science Education Majors,” gives pre-service earth science teachers the chance to design and build their own models of particularly complex or abstract Earth processes and concepts, according to project leaders James Ebert of the Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Department and Paul Bischoff of the Secondary Education Department. The third principal investigator is Glenn Dolphin, Tamaratt Teaching Professor at the University of Calgary.

“A lot of Earth’s processes are really difficult to visualize because of their size and scale, such as the moving and shifting of continents, or because they take so long.”
--Project Leader James Ebert

Participating students, who were selected from a pool of applicants, spent four weeks this summer designing and building the models and will work throughout the year to tweak and perfect them. Four of the students were from SUNY Oneonta, and two were from other SUNY schools.

Each student received a $2,500 stipend. Six more students will participate next year, with six more after that.

Models created by the first group of students demonstrated eclipses, how wind shears can develop into tornadoes, how light is absorbed into the ocean, and how the atmosphere is impacted by greenhouse gases, Ebert explained.

“The students had a strong base knowledge of these concepts but, by designing and building these models, they homed in on them and now have some expert knowledge,” Ebert said. “It was a powerful learning experience for them. Afterward, we surveyed the students, and the results were just mind-blowingly positive.”

Julia Valentino, a junior from Pawling, N.Y., said she “loved” being a part of the program. Models she worked on included the one depicting wind shear and another showing how color affects temperature.

“It was really great,” Valentino said. “I loved being able to create something to help kids better understand concepts I didn’t really understand in school. It helps you learn when you’re having to explain to others the concepts.”

Chrissy Scaglione, a sophomore from Manorville, N.Y., said she worked on a model of the moon as well as a rain table.

“I very much enjoyed the experience,” she said. “It taught me about how to use different models and how students will learn, and I got a teacher’s perspective. It was very interesting.”

The models were made using everyday items such as plastic bottles, rulers, wooden dowels, and index cards, so that they can be easily replicated.

“We wanted the models to be authentic but also inexpensive,” Bischoff said. “The goal is to have them replicated… to have effective models for showing earth science concepts that teachers across the country can use.”

Models developed by participants will eventually be evaluated by New York State Master STEM Teachers and pilot-tested in K-12 and introductory geoscience college classes. They will also be presented at the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center’s “Science Saturdays,” in other informal science education venues and at science teacher conferences.

“I think it was a great experience,” said Carlie Perretta, a senior from New York Mills. “I really learned a lot, not only about model making but about the way students learn and what is most beneficial for them. We brought our models into high schools and had teachers come in and look at them. It was really good to see what students got out of it and what the teachers thought they could use them for.”

Bischoff said the experience gives students a more in-depth understanding of the research process and lets them see the creative components to teaching.

“There’s a self-awareness that they can actually play a role in re-writing the way science is taught,” he said. “Additionally, programs such as this one foster career-long relationships with student participants. Students who are involved in projects like this one tend to be connected to the college for a long time.”