2009 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

EPO Activity: Astrobiology Teachers Academy

Project Progress

The New York Center for Astrobiology held its first Teachers Academy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on July 13-16, 2009. Nine high school science teachers from four local school districts collaborated with six NAI scientists to learn about topics in astrobiology and develop ideas for using astrobiology in the classroom. One member of the external evaluation team was present for the entire Academy; a second attended the final day.

The work of the Academy focused on teacher preparation of learning modules that would infuse astrobiology themes and content into existing standards-based curricula. Teachers were tasked to present what they had developed on the final day of the Academy by describing their learning objectives, demonstrating instruction and giving participants an experience of the associated assessment activity.

Baseline data and background information were collected to study the impact of learning modules on student interest and engagement in the STEM disciplines. Information was collected each day from all participants and was used formatively to evaluate and improve Academy activities in midstream.

All participants expressed satisfaction with the Academy process and particularly with conversations and question-and-answer sessions between teachers and NAI scientists. Efforts are underway to continue this dialogue over the course of the academic year. Both teachers and scientists remarked that the interaction contributed to their professional growth. All teachers indicated that the rigor of the professional development that characterized the Academy ranked among the highest levels they had experienced during their careers.

Evaluation team members noted a number of features of scientist presentations and teacher-prepared learning modules in need of improvement in future Academies. The team has concluded that additional resources in the form of financial support for continuing teacher engagement is required for full realization of the potential of the learning modules and that this realization would result in substantial benefits to the Academy, participating students and schools, and to the NAI.

A full description of Academy activities is available in the Preliminary report on the Astrobiology Teachers Academy submitted to the NAI by Dr. John Delano in July. A full evaluation report including data collection instruments, findings, conclusions and recommendations is available in the Fall 2009 Evaluation Report which will be submitted by ACASE to NAI by November 6, 2009. A supplementary grant proposal, which outlines the need, proposed activities, outcomes, evaluation and benefits associated with additional support to teachers will be submitted.