My professional career started in 1986, once I finished my MS in Geology from Emory University. As it happened, that year was the peak year for people getting MS degrees in Geology – something like 7800 in that year alone (currently, the number is around half of that!). So jobs were not widely available for new geologists, especially as the petroleum industry was still laying people off. A former professor of mine, Don Steila, was the director of UNCC’s Math-Science Education Center, and he informed me that North Carolina had just passed a lateral-entry certification law, designed to fill high-need areas such as science. A principal at a school where I was substitute teaching helped me to get the paperwork together, and off things went.
I was soon hired to teach by Monroe High School in Monroe, North Carolina, teaching Physical Science, Chemistry, Earth Science, Physics, and Algebra. MHS was a study in contrasts with my prior experiences. The total size of this school (9-12) was the same size as my high school graduating class – about 800. While it was in a small city in a then rural county, it shared many issues with inner city schools, including a very diverse population and high percentages of students receiving free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. Comparing my daily experiences teaching with what I was learning at night and during the summer through my teacher education coursework was a constant exercise in formative evaluation. It was quickly clear what applications worked, what didn’t, and what needed further development.
While teaching at MHS, I was also given the opportunity to provide professional development coursework for science teachers in the region through the Math-Science Education Center at UNC-Charlotte. Courses that I offered included physical science and field-based Earth science. As a member of the regional science fair committee, I escorted regional finalists and their teachers to the ISEF.
But after teaching at MHS for six years, I began to develop questions on how one could improve their teaching skills, organize schools to improve the efficiency of learning, and how to motivate adolescent students. These questions were not going to be answered at MHS, as the direction that school policies were going seemed counter to even testing solutions to these questions. So I returned to graduate school, selecting (and being selected by) the science education program at the University of Georgia.
While there, I found that not only was I able to answer the questions that I had formed at MHS, I also learned how to develop meaningful questions to address new needs as they arose, and investigate appropriate means to address those needs. And with the guidance of my advisor (Tom Koballa) and the rest of my committee, my dissertation was able to provide one means of addressing the problem of adolescent motivation in science learning situations. One of my committee members insisted that I sum up the solution in 25 words or less, which was to create an instructional environment that convinced students that they were “in charge” of the learning situation, or personally “owned it” (22 words!). This subsequently became my go-to position when starting out to design a professional development activity, a methods course syllabus, or an enrichment activity for adolescent students.
My first faculty position was at West Virginia University, in Morgantown, WV. I served as one of three science educators in the department, but quickly became immersed in the design and delivery of science teaching methods courses for the 5-year MAT as well as the MA-and-initial certification programs. Primarily through teaching middle and secondary science teaching methods courses and subsequently supervising the same students in their student teaching practica, I was able to follow the arc of their development, from students first seeking only to get an “A” in the course to early-stage professionals hungry to gain skills to enhance their teaching experience.
While at WVU, I was able to provide service for science learning, first through the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, serving on the Board of Directors and later becoming President. This work also allowed me to work very closely with the WV Department of Education in the generation of professional development programs for science teachers statewide. One of these programs was a GK-12 Teaching Fellows project called TIGERS, which placed teams of STEM graduate students in the classrooms of teams of middle school mathematics and science teachers. I was also asked to resurrect the WV Governor’s School for Mathematics & Science, at the request of the then Governor, Bob Wise. Over the course of three summers, 360 middle school students came to WVU for a residential experience, learning advanced STEM content in teams and applying these skills to the development of solutions for theme-based programs. In this same time period, I served on multiple NSF panels, as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, and reviewed multiple NCATE accreditation portfolios.
In late 2003, I found the opportunity to combine my teacher education experiences with my preparation as a geologist, interviewing and later accepting theoffer to teach in the Department of Geology & Environmental Science at James Madison University. I was given the unofficial mandate to “makeJMU the place to come to become an Earth science teacher.” To that end, my colleagues and I revised the BA-Geology degree to become a BA-Earth science degree, specifically designed to prepare those professionals that would communicate science to a non-scientific audience. This degree was thus designed for, but not limited to, teachers of Earth science. At the current time, our two degree tracks support about 130 students per year, of which 40 or so are in the BA track.
My work at JMU has included providing course work for students in the BA track in courses such as History and Philosophy of the Geosciences, Genesis of Solid Earth Materials, and Contemporary Issues in the Geosciences. I have also been able to support our BS-Geology students as one of the instructors of our Field Geologic Mapping course, which is held annually in western Ireland. From this experience, I subsequently designed a field-based course for teachers of science, Earth & Environmental Science in Ireland. This course takes preservice and inservice teachers of science on a two-week field-based excursion to western and Northern Ireland, providing them with the means to organize content instruction around outdoor experiences in a safe and meaningful manner.
Professional service has been a strong portion of my work at JMU, which has included serving the Virginia Association of Science Teachers as Earth Science Committee Chairperson, President, and now as a Regional Director. This work dovetails well with my service to the Virginia Math-Science Coalition and to the Virginia Department of Education. For the VDOE, I have reviewed Earth science state test items and addressed the statewide need for qualified Earth science teachers through grant-supported professional development programs. Currently at JMU, I serve as one of the Co-Directors for the Center for STEM Education and Outreach, which directly supports the professional development of inservice STEM teachers and the engagement of precollege students in STEM across the 8 school divisions in our region. I have also recently become the Coordinator for Science Teacher Preparation in the College of Science & Mathematics at JMU, where my colleagues and I seek to make JMU “the place in Virginia to become a science teacher.”
Leveraging my teaching and service, my recent scholarship has continued to support science teacher preparation, but has also focused on the design and evaluation of high-quality instruction and assessment.
I was deeply involved in the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, first as member of the Earth & Space Science Design Team for the Framework for K12 Science Education and later as a primary reviewer for Achieve on drafts of the Earth & Space Science standards of the NGSS. I was also part of a committee for the National Research Council, which generated a report on Federal government programs that support the next generation of Earth scientists. I have also written about the inquiry designs in precollege Earth science teaching, assessment and evaluation of field learning experiences, the evaluation of paleoclimate curriculum development, and the use of the evolution of complex Earth systems as a central component of Earth science instruction. The evolution of Earth systems is the central theme in my current NSF-funded project, MAESTRO (Mathematics and Earth Science Teachers Resource Organization). In this pilot project, teams of mathematics and science teachers in Grades 6 and 9 design integrated instruction and provide mutual support through classroom lesson study. The initial findings suggest that, as a model of instruction as well as professional development, the project is proving successful.
Some of my recent work can be found at these links:
1. Geoscience Education workshop contributions:
Motivation and the Affective Domain in the Geosciences: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/workshop07/participants/16247.html
Program assessment: http://serc.carleton.edu/departments/program_assessment/participants.html
Complex systems in geoscience teaching: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/complexsystems/workshop2010/index.html
Profile for SERC: http://serc.carleton.edu/person/2095.html
2. Grant program for science teacher professional development and preparation
Blue Ridge Earth Science Collaborative (BRESC): http://news.virginia.edu/content/uva-jmu-professors-receive-grant-earth-science-teacher-education
Mathematics and Earth Science Teachers Resource Organization (MAESTRO): http://www.jamesmadisonuniversity.org/news/2012/06/26-pylegetsgrant.shtml
Earth & Environmental Science in Ireland: http://www.jmu.edu/jmuweb/general/news/general11747.shtml
3. Youth program in the Earth Sciences
Youth Initiative Program in Earth & Environmental Science: http://www.usgs.gov/core_science_systems/access/fall_2012/article-2.html
4. Selected Publications
Inquiry model for Earth science teaching : ejse.southwestern.edu/article/download/7770/5537
Preparing the Next Generation of Geoscientists: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18369
Field Geology Education: http://specialpapers.gsapubs.org/content/461/341.full.pdf+html
Strategies for Teaching & Assessing the Evolution of Complex Earth Systems: http://nagt.org/files/nagt/jge/abstracts/strategies_rubrics_teaching_ch.pdf