RCN Outreach: 2015 Summer Teacher Workshop on Brain and Behavior Supports K-12 Science Education
RCN member Laura Carruth, an associate professor in the Georgia State University Neuroscience Institute, led a two-day professional development workshop in Atlanta, Georgia in July, 2015, for nine 2nd through 5th grade teachers. The workshop was held in partnership with Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Zoo Atlanta with support from the RCN’s NSF grant (NSF IOS 1256839). Dr. Carruth and colleagues from Georgia State University and the University of West Florida are collecting data from teachers at the workshop as part of a science education research project aimed at understanding how teachers think about and utilize the science Learning Progressions of their students. A Learning Progression (LP) is a sequence of more complex ways of reasoning as students’ develop their thinking skills and transition between grades. The project will reinforce science concepts as well as helping these instructors develop lesson plans using Learning Progressions as a way to meet the Next Generation Science Standards.
Participants in the two day workshop focused on understanding LPs and neuroscience content, specifically brain structure, brain function, and animal behavior. Day one of the workshop was held at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, which at the time of the workshop was hosting a special exhibition, Brain: The Inside Story. This exhibit is a touring exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History. Teachers learned background knowledge about the brain, toured the Brain exhibit, participated in a discussion on brain structure and function, learned about LPs and how their students learn and think about science, and completed a “build-a-brain” activity. The second day the workshop was held at Zoo Atlanta where the teachers first reviewed and learned background knowledge about animal behavior, before touring the zoo with a special focus on the gorilla behavior. Participants also learned how to use ethograms, saw how the elephants are trained during a behind the scenes tour, collaborated across grade-levels to construct a LP on a relevant standard, and had an animal encounter with the zoo’s education animals, a prehensile-tailed porcupine and a prehensile-tailed skink, an American alligator, and a ferret.
Teachers participating in the workshop were from three metro-area elementary schools, Feldwood Elementary in Fulton County, City of Decatur’s 4th/5th Academy and one private institution in Atlanta, Cliff Valley. Five participants taught at a Title I public school in a large urban district, and all nine participants had at least 6 years of teaching experience. Dr. Carruth and colleagues plan to continue collaborating with these teachers to develop specific lesson plans in conjunction with the grant submission this Fall. They will use data collected from teachers at the workshop to submit two education proposals to NSF this fall. Successful funding would provide professional development and lesson plans to teachers and numerous school districts the opportunity to enhance their science curriculum.