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Professional Development for the Other Science Teachers

students studying plants in a greenhouse

With the growing push for improved STEM learning and teaching, there has also been an increased push for science teacher professional development (and other instructional resources) aimed at helping support science instruction efforts in the K-12 classroom. Such opportunities are critical, especially for elementary teachers who may have been discouraged from teaching science in light of testing accountability in other critical subjects such as language arts and math. Yet, schools are only a small part of the science learning landscape. If consider that most of our time throughout life is spent outside of school (unless of course, you are a teacher or university professor), then it would stand to reason that our science learning continues well beyond the confines of the classroom. In fact, learning does happen outside of schooling, and it is often facilitated by educators at museums, nature centers, aquariums, and afterschool programs.

Dr. Kisiel, a former high school teacher and museum educator himself, continues to make efforts to help support these sometimes 'forgotten' teachers in their efforts to communicate and engage with learners of all ages. Such approaches have taken the form of a Southern California workshop series (generously funded by the Boeing Corporation) aimed at helping informal educators address different aspects of their practice (e.g. asking questions, informal assessment, English language learners) as well as numerous seminars at CSULB.

More recently, Dr. Kisiel has been engaged with educators from zoos and aquariums across the country as part of the NSF-funded project 'Zoo and Aquarium Action Research Collaborative' or ZAARC, led by researchers at Oregon State University and TERC. Educators participating in the program have been charged with developing action research projects that will help inform practice. As consultant for the project, Dr. Kisiel participates in bi-monthly conference calls with staff from four of the six participating institutions (Maryland Zoo, New England Aquarium, Phoenix Zoo and St. Louis Zoo) to discuss the progress of the different projects and provide possible suggestions for improvement. Through participation in the research process, the educators reflect on program goals and outcomes, as well as the very nature of science learning in these out-of-school settings. Staff participants are also developing a better understanding of the technical aspects of research and evaluation, as well as an awareness of the benefits of studying their practices. Each team is looking at a different research question suitable to their site. Project ranges from developing staff practices through reflective observation, to investigating changes in visitor conversation at an animal exhibit after implementation of an iPad-directed activity, to examining the impacts of an orientation talk on student engagement. The project will provide the field with new perspectives on how action research might lead to more reflective science instructors.

More locally, Dr. Kisiel has engaged informal educators through several local conferences geared toward museums and their staff. In February, Dr. Kisiel led a daylong workshop on evaluation and assessment at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as part of the annual California Association of Museums conference. Later in the conference, four of his graduate students from the Science Education MS program (Informal Education option) had an opportunity to share the work they'd done for their respective thesis projects. The interactive poster session allowed these four informal educators to share their experiences (including studies of family visitors at zoos, aquarium docent interactions and even citizen science projects) with other informal educators in the region. The experience also provided the MS students with an opportunity to share their discoveries in a non-threatening way in advance of their final thesis defenses!

These professional development efforts will continue into the new year, with Dr. Kisiel attending the Association for Zoos and Aquariums annual meeting where he will help lead a special session on assessment and evaluation of education programs. The goal of this workshop is to help science educators understand the importance of aligning program goals with assessment approaches, as well easing the anxiety of collecting, and then using, evaluation data.