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Using the National Parks as Way to Engage Diverse Learners in Earth Science Education

Description

The Michigan Teaching Excellence Program (MITEP) is a multi-year program of teacher leadership development that empowers science teachers in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Jackson to lead their schools and districts through the process of improving science teaching and learning. The MiTEP project tenders a partnership of academia, K-12 educators and the National Park Service (NPS) for improving Earth Science education. A component of this partnership is the opportunity for teachers to intern in a Midwest national park for 3-8 weeks in the third year of the program.

It is important to cultivate partnerships of this nature that support the development of place-based education strategies aiming to improve Earth Science literacy. This partnership has afforded Midwest park staff access to diverse learners in urban settings unable to visit the park. These teachers are skilled and creative communicators that through their interactions with park staff have created lesson plans and virtual media programs that can be used in both the parks and the classroom. The foundation has been laid for future work in this program aiming to develop a stronger appreciation of environment and geological processes and connections between what K-12 students do and their impact on Earth systems.

In summer 2011, eleven teachers from the Grand Rapids school district participated in this innovative way of learning and teaching Earth Science. Participants lived in the parks and worked directly with both national park and Michigan Tech staff to create lesson plans, podcasts, media clips, video and photographic documentation of their experiences. One goal was to develop geological interpretive materials desired and needed for the parks. Secondly, and important to place-based educational methodologies, these deliverables will be used as a way of bringing the parks to urban classrooms. Evaluation of this program includes pre-post surveys administered to examine depth and breadth of geological knowledge, awareness of cultural significance, and emotional meanings and attachments toward the park. Further to this, semi-structured interviews with participants, park staff and academic faculty have been conducted to determine how these programs can be best implemented in both parks and classrooms alike. Preliminary results are presented in this paper.