Sustaining K-12 Professional Development in Geology: Recurrent Participation in RockCamp

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ABSTRACT

A reconnaissance study of the geology professional development program known as RockCamp was initiated to examine the sustained, or recurrent, participation of K-12 science teachers. Open-ended interviews, concept mapping, and creative writing assignments were used to explore the perceptions of six teachers possessing an exceptional record of participation. Efficacy, fun, right time of life, and support emerged as unanimous reasons for recurrent participation. Content, friendship, and methodology were very important. College credit was not critical. These teachers' perceptions suggest their sustained involvement in the RockCamp Program is stimulated by situated learning experiences stressing a compare, contrast, connect, and construct pedagogy within a supportive learning community.

INTRODUCTION

Entering its second decade, RockCamp continues to offer West Virginia K-12 science educators on-going professional development experiences in geology. Three primary reasons have contributed to the program's longevity. First, RockCamp has tried not to become just another short-term operative in K-12 professional development. Sequentially designed events offer abundant opportunities for continued participation. second, by obtaining a modest but sustainable annual budget with a full-time director, the program has become institutionalized.

Third, through lessons learned we have come to recognize that K-12 professional development in geology requires more than an attitude of "bestowing knowledge." It requires a collaborative effort between the professional development facilitator and K-12 educator. As a result, we have come to appreciate the importance of repetitive interaction with fewer teachers versus single interactions with a large number of teachers.

Several years ago, while recruiting applicants for sessions beyond RockCamp II, we began to ask, "Why do the same participants continually return?" A review of published work revealed efforts to understand the nature of sustainable (also called recurrent) professional development for K-12 science educators. Dass, 1999; Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love, and Stiles, 1998; Darling-Hammond, 1996; KyIe, 1995; Miles, 1995; Little, 1993; and Birnbaum, Morris, and McDavid, 1990, agree "one-shot" (i.e., terminal) teacher enhancement programs are inadequate, ineffective, and out of step with ideas promoted by current educational research. Gibson, Ortiz, Gibson, and Teeter (1992) link non-sustainable professional development for earth science teachers to the practice of finite grant funding. They found, once money expires, programmatic-derived improvements eroded because participant encouragement, support, and additional educational opportunities were no longer available. In spite of this ample research, little research demonstrating the participant's perceptions on recurrent participation in K-12 geology professional development programs is available. Thus, our question became: 'What reasons for recurrence are most critical to RockCamp participants?"

THE ROCKCAMP PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

RockCamp (Table 1) began in 1992 with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE). In 1996 the NSF grant ceased and the cost of the program was absorbed by the State of West Virginia through the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey (WVGES). In addition to Survey geologists, project staff includes instructors from both geology and science education departments of West Virginia University and Fairmont State College. Carefully screened RockCamp graduates are asked to return as facilitators. We do not consider them content mentors because they are still learning themselves. Their mission is to enhance dialogue among new participants, between participants and staff, and bring potential problems to our attention.

Participants may earn graduate credit at every level of the program. …