Indiana teachers get a hands-on look at environmental change at IU Summer Science Institute

Science teachers from across Indiana recently traveled to the Indiana University Bloomington campus to attend a workshop on environmental change and its impact on communities.

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IU biology professor Rich Philips, center, provides soil analysis instructions to science teachers John Simmons of Franklin Central High School and Kara Cheslock of Lora L Batchelor Middle School. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

The 2018 Summer Science Institute: Educating for Environmental Change from June 13 to 15 was the first of its kind at IU, bringing together 20 middle school and high school educators to learn data-driven classroom lessons prepared by IU faculty and participate in hands-on activities.

The event was a collaboration between WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology and the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU, a part of IU's Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge.

"The mission is to focus on the next generation of scientists," said Michael Hamburger, professor of geophysics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a key organizer on the project. "If we want to really commit to the future of the planet, this is where we have to start. It's very encouraging to see teachers who are ready to bring this message back to their classrooms."

The workshop's participants were high school and middle school teachers from across Indiana in a variety of science disciplines, early and late in their careers, and from urban and rural school districts.

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IU geology professor Michael Hamburger, left, directs an exercise at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve with science teachers Stacie O'Flaherty of Options Charter School and Jim Lindsey of Franklin Central High School. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

To help educate teachers on environmental change, the workshop was organized into segments with hands-on activities, opportunities to learn about the latest developments in climate research from IU scientists and tips on how to approach the subject in the classroom.

One of the workshop's main events took place at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve at Griffy Woods with exercises to study the impact of climate change on trees, and experiments to understand how soil acts to store and release carbon dioxide.

Kirstin Milks, who teaches earth and space science and advanced biology at Bloomington South High School, said these type of hands-on exercises help teachers break out of their routines and think about how they can excite the next generation about science.

"Having students do the same types of thinking or intellectual practices that scientists do is unusual stuff for us think about," added Milks, who also served as an organizer for the event. "If a teacher has a couple of trees outside of their schools, they can do this with their students."

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Kelly Book, a chemistry teacher at North Harrison High School, collects soil samples at Griffy Lake. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Other activities included a poster session with IU graduate and postdoctoral students, a tour of the IU Seismograph Station, and classroom-style sessions focused on the science of climate change and its predicted impact on the state.

Overall, the three-day institute was about "understanding the science aspects of climate change as a story of hope," said Milks, as well as considering "next steps" so teachers feel well equipped to empower their students to think about the issue.

"There can be many barriers to teachers feeling like they can engage their students on issues about climate," she added. "Our job with the teachers is to make it feel engaging and interesting and even fun to share with their students."

The workshop's final day focused in part on the story of the hole in the ozone layer -- and the choices humans can make to change the future. Participants also discussed how to teach politicized and controversial topics in the classroom.

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Science teachers John Simmons of Franklin Central High School and Rhonda Osborne, right, of Noblesville High School collect soil samples with Emmy Brockman, education director at WonderLab. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

"It's very impactful to have teacher workshops where we support the teachers and offer them the best instruction that we can on challenging topics," said Emmy Brockman, director of education at WonderLab. "I hope that they take these tangible lessons that are data based and use them to tell a story their students can understand."

Carrie Huffman, who teaches earth and space science and integrated chemistry and physics at Noblesville High School, said her favorite part of the workshop was getting her hands dirty in the field, enriching her current climate curriculum and interacting with the other teachers. She also enjoyed the chance to be a student again for a few days.

"I got to process the material through a lens that is very different as a teacher," she said. "So now I can learn how to reintroduce this to my students, which will help me reach more of my students and engage with more of them."

According to organizers, similar programs are planned next summer with support from IU's Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge.