GPS: Geoscience Partnership Study

By Schuster, Dwight | Journal of Geoscience Education, September 2010 | Go to article overview

GPS: Geoscience Partnership Study


Schuster, Dwight, Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

To promote and expand geoscience literacy in the United States, meaningful partnerships between research scientists and educators must be developed and sustained. For two years, science and education faculty from an urban research university and secondary science teachers from a large urban school district have prepared 11th and 12th grade students to mentor 7th grade students on the topic of climate science. This partnership was based on the premise that high school students, when trained and supported by teachers and scientists, have the capacity to extend middle school students' efforts to engage in and understand the geosciences. This paper a) describes mentors' and mentees' understandings of climate science as a function of their participation in the second year of this program, b) identifies the characteristics of effective mentoring relationships, and c) explores the scalable and sustainable aspects of this partnership.

INTRODUCTION

As recently reported in the 2009 GEO VISION Report, geoscientists in the future will increasingly be called to assess how human behavior is impacting Earth and its systems (NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences, 2009). As reported by the 2009 Earth Science Literacy Principles Report (Earth Science Literacy Initiative, 2009), science educators are uniquely positioned to translate the big ideas of earth science into language and learning opportunities that can be understood by all K-12 students. According to this report, an earth-science-literate person

* understands the fundamental concepts of Earth's many systems;

* knows how to find and assess scientifically credible information about Earth;

* communicates about earth science in a meaningful way;

* is able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding Earth and its resources; and

* recognizes that earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.

To achieve this level of literacy, federal agencies have begun to place a greater emphasis on the importance of developing and disseminating K-12 earth science educational materials, instructional approaches, and programs that will help prepare the next generation of scientists and informed citizens (United States Global Change Research Program, 2009; Ward, 2009).

Unfortunately, many of these new initiatives will be~ or are being-introduced into systems where the earth sciences are not an integral part of secondary science education curricula. Historically less than 10% of all high school students in the United States have had the opportunity to take a class in the earth sciences (Chief State School Officers Council, 2001, 2003). In 2002, only 11% of America's 8th graders participated in an earth science course (Chief State School Officers Council, 2003). From 1982 to 2005, less than a quarter of the students from each graduating high school class had taken an earth science or geology course (American Geological Institute, 2009).

One of the most important indicators of high school students' choice of, pursuit of, and persistence in an undergraduate science degree is whether they have participated in advanced science and mathematics courses as part of their high school experience. In the state where this study took place, even though the percentage of students taking Advanced Placement exams in science and math is consistent with national averages, the percentage of African-American and Hispanic students taking Advanced Placement exams in science and math is less than half the national average (Russell and Atwater, 2005). Furthermore, the level of science proficiency that middle school students in high-poverty areas attain often determines whether they continue to pursue science in high school and beyond (Ruby, 2006). Considering that that the current number of geoscientists in the United States is not sufficient and representative of its population, special efforts need to be extended that promote earth science education in a variety of demographic settings. …

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