Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Intellectual Energy Flow: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teacher Professional Development

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Intellectual Energy Flow: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teacher Professional Development

Article excerpt

An English teacher examines a sunflower under a hand lens. A visual arts teacher counts organisms in a plot of ground in the schoolyard. A science teacher considers the poet William Blake's "World in a Grain of Sand" (Erdman 1988). These are scenes from a half-day workshop titled Exploring New Environments, developed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's DESTINY Traveling Science Learning Program.


Exploring New Environments is a teacher professional development model based on the idea that teachers are also learners who thrive when given the means and encouragement to explore fresh intellectual worlds. Teachers can creatively use what they learn to increase their students' interest in and understanding of science.

Supporting teachers

Established in 2000, DESTINY is a pre-college program that promotes equity of access to high-quality science education for all students. In rural and other underserved regions, our traveling science labs provide wet-lab experiences for students at schools where those opportunities are otherwise unavailable. Our professional development workshops for teachers provide lesson plans and classroom materials designed to empower teachers to meet the challenges that science education presents today.

Science teachers are DESTINY's primary focus. From the beginning, though, the program has sought to involve teachers of other disciplines in the process of science education. Initially, we concentrated on English language arts teachers, who teach critical thinking, analytical reading, and clear writing--skills that are particularly needed and valued in the sciences. We quickly discovered that English teachers, as well as teachers from other nonscience disciplines, were interested in attending our science-themed workshops and using our materials. Indeed, post-workshop evaluation showed that nonscience teachers responded even more positively to the workshops than did science teachers. Specifically, 7 science teachers and 1 nonscience teacher said they "agreed," and 15 science teachers and 9 nonscience teachers said they "agreed strongly" with the following statement: "Interdisciplinary workshops have provided knowledge and/or skills that I consider to be valuable." None of the participants said that they strongly disagreed, disagreed, or were uncertain.

When we set out to include nonscience teachers in our teacher training and support, we did not predict the high level of their enthusiasm--or that they would incorporate into their teaching the wet- and dry-lab science activities modeled in the workshops. Another unanticipated outcome was that many science teachers requested class sets of the books and used or adapted activities that we had intended for use in nonscience classrooms.

In addition, science and nonscience teachers began to collaborate on lesson plans such as those presented in the workshops. Our experience has shown that teachers across the curriculum are eager for materials and activities that will interest and help their students; reaching beyond apparent disciplinary boundaries appears to enhance the professional development experience and outcomes for teachers. Our findings suggest that these science-themed interdisciplinary workshops are useful models.

An interdisciplinary approach

DESTINY initiated its interdisciplinary approach with Frankenstein's Fingerprints, a module that deals with genetics, scientific discovery and ethics, and students' critical-thinking skills. Next, we taught a module called The Evolution of Evolution, focusing on scientific and cultural understanding of Darwin's insights, as well as thoughtful ways to hone students' discussion skills. Our third module--Exploring New Environments: Using the Tools of Science and the Language Arts to Discover, Describe, and Understand Ecosystems--tackles the complexities of ecosystems, reading and writing about nature with scientific insight, and students' observational skills. …

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