2012 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Astrobiology Teachers Academy

Project Progress

The New York Center for Astrobiology hosted its fourth annual Astrobiology Teachers Academy (ATA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on July 9-12, 2012. The goal of the ATA is to inspire, engage, and assist high school science teachers to infuse Astrobiology themes and content into existing science curricula aligned with New York State learning standards. The 4-day Academy was attended by 24 high school science teachers from New York State (compared with 10 in 2011) and was easily the largest cohort we have hosted to date. The group consisted of 10 returning alumni of previous years’ ATA cohorts, and 14 new participants. The latter had been competitively selected following an application process modeled after SETI’s highly successful ASSET program (Astrobiology Summer Science Experience for Teachers). The talents, experience, and enthusiasm of the returning teachers was demonstrated by their presentations and mentoring of the new class of teachers. All of the local NAI-funded scientists from RPI and UAlbany contributed to this Academy during its entire 4-day program through formal presentations and discussions with teachers in developing learning modules. One of the topics discussed at the 2012 ATA was usage of social media in Astrobiology education. The ATA now has a facebook page at:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Astrobiology-Teachers-Academy/159052910896815?ref=stream

Of great importance in the organization and operation of the ATA was the involvement by the professional educational consultants from the Association for the Cooperative Advancement of Science and Education (ACASE). Information gained from their assessments of the prior academies resulted in a stronger program that has led to sustained contact with the teachers for guiding and following their progress in bringing Astrobiology learning-modules to their science classes.

Of course, the success of the ATA depends ultimately on the sustained efforts of the participating teachers to take astrobiology to their class rooms, and hence to enrich the learning experience of their students in the STEM disciplines. This goal appears to have been accomplished to a much higher level in 2011/12 than in previous years. We were particularly impressed with the Summer 2011 cohort of teachers, most of whom stayed fully engaged throughout the academic year and returned in 2012 to share their skills and experience with the next cohort. Four of this outstanding group were supported by our NAI team to attend AbSciCon in April, 2012, where they delivered several oral and poster presentations and attended the special EPO meeting that followed AbSciCon.

In May 2012 we submitted an augmentation proposal to NAI to request additional funds to support and sustain our ATA, as the result of which we received an award of $21,000.

Astrobiology Teachers Academy participants, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, July 11, 2012.