330 Learn, Network at Earth Educators Rendezvous 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin
"I didn't realize how broad the geoscience education community was," commented one of the 330 professionals gathered at the second annual Earth Educators' Rendezvous, held July 18-22 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Attendees included researchers and practitioners working on all aspects of undergraduate Earth education, including K-12 teacher preparation and professional development, two-year college programs, and graduate student preparation, as well as informal education and community outreach. Many attendees took on multiple roles at the meeting, which was an engaging mix of workshops, oral and poster sessions, panel discussions, teaching demonstrations, and plenary presentations by nationally recognized speakers.
Last year's inaugural Rendezvous at the University of Colorado at Boulder focused on bringing together researchers and practitioners in undergraduate Earth education and cognitive science. This year the audience was broadened to include over 50 graduate students and postdocs who participated in the "Preparing for an Academic Career" workshop that "really gave me solid and concrete information about what the next steps I need to take are." In addition, this year's version included pre-meeting events and a wider array of formats. A pre-Rendezvous field trip to the Baraboo Ranges immersed 40 attendees in Wisconsin geology and active learning techniques and a pre-meeting "Review Camp" brought together participants to analyze activities and websites in the NAGT resource collections.
Attendees could choose from a menu of 14 two- or three-day morning workshops and 15 afternoon mini-workshops focused on specific teaching strategies (e.g., "Introducing Active Learning Strategies to Large Intro Courses"), using available resources (e.g., "Adapting InTeGrate Modules to the High School and College Classroom"), and education research (e.g., "Spatial Reasoning in the Geosciences"). One participant appreciated gaining "knowledge of the wealth of resources that are available to do more active learning in the classroom." Another commented "Low context, multi context, high context communication/learning styles was a game changer and probably the best workshop I have ever had anywhere. (It was) paradigm shifting."
Attendees contributed to oral and poster sessions and participated in panel discussions on topics such as developing geo-competencies, curriculum design, sustainability education, and field camp technology. Teaching demonstrations, also new to the Rendezvous this year, allowed participants to play the roles of students as presenters engaged them in effective instructional activities such as "CogSketch Geoscience Worksheets" and a "World Climate Simulation." The Rendezvous also provided time and space for 10 working groups to make progress on special projects.
Many participants identified as the highlight of the Rendezvous the exhilarating plenary talks by Scott Freeman (University of Washington, "The Positive Effects of Evidence-based Teaching on At-Risk Students, and Everybody Else") and Becky Packard (Mount Holyoke College, "Broadening Access to STEM Through the Power of Daily Interactions").
The Rendezvous emphasized the important role of strong curricula and research-based teaching practices in developing the skills and competencies needed for careers in the geosciences and for an Earth-literate public. But to be effective, these must be coupled with efforts at broadening outreach and increasing retention among underrepresented groups and populations not traditionally exposed to the geosciences. Thus, improving K-12 teacher development and recruiting, retention, and diversity in the geosciences were important themes found in many aspects of the 2016 program, including a workshop on the GeoNeeds project, an NSF-funded initiative which focuses on two-year colleges, minority-serving institutions, and other institutions where the geosciences are either under-subscribed or not taught at all. One attendee commented, "I really appreciated the thread of inclusivity that ran through the week...It's an area that I need to think more about and that our community needs to collectively address." Another recognized the need to "switch my thinking from 'recruiting and retaining' to 'attracting diverse students and helping them thrive.'"
Perhaps the most important outcome of the gathering was the continued development of a diverse community involved in geoscience education and in a dynamic environment that promoted effective interactions. These interactions will certainly continue at the 2017 Earth Educators' Rendezvous scheduled for July 17-22 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Earth Educators' Rendezvous was organized by the NAGT and InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future) projects and was supported by participant registrations; contributions from the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers; and grants from the National Science Foundation. The plenary presentations and final Town Hall meeting were sponsored by Pearson Education, W.W. Norton & Company, and Macmillan Publishers.
Pictures from the 2016 Earth Educators' Rendezvous
Attendees networked, shared research — and observed "Jelloea," a technique that uses jelly volcanoes to teach students about basaltic volcanism. [Photos by Krista Herbstrith and Cathy Manduca]