Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Bringing NCSE’s professional learning model to Tennessee

Memphis teachers at an NCSE professional learning event.

The NCSE Supporting Teachers program recently held its second Leadership Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosted by the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Vanderbilt University from June 19 to 22, 2023, and led by four NCSE staff, the primary goal of the event was to build our Teacher Ambassadors’ capacity to lead professional learning workshops in their regions of the country.

The 12 teacher ambassadors began with a deep dive into the research supporting NCSE’s approach to curriculum, pedagogy, and professional development, which helps teachers resolve student misconceptions about socially but not scientifically controversial topics such as evolution and climate change. “It was helpful to review NCSE’s vision and mission,” said NCSE Teacher Ambassador Alex Swavely, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The teacher ambassadors then learned more about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the NCSE approach to creating and implementing curriculum using phenomenon-based inquiry, a process called storylining. As well as examining case studies to investigate effective practices, the teacher ambassadors discussed challenges that teachers face when adopting and adapting NGSS-aligned curricula, and shared possible solutions.

The next day, the group took a field trip to the Coon Creek Science Center to hunt for fossils and learn about marine life in the Middle Tennessee region 70–75 million years ago. This expedition allowed the teacher ambassadors to get hands-on experience with fossil discovery and identification, which feature prominently in most of NCSE’s evolution lesson sets, in order to communicate these experiences to teachers and students.

Authentic scientific data

Because NCSE’s lesson sets attempt to use authentic scientific data and practices as much as possible, we felt that giving the teacher ambassadors an authentic field experience would enhance their confidence and abilities to convey these experiences to other teachers and their students.

Upon returning to Nashville, the teacher ambassadors spent the next day preparing to lead their own professional learning workshop. This involved a storyboarding exercise to familiarize them with the lessons they would be leading in the workshop, planning out an agenda, preparing materials, and practicing the lessons and presentations with each other.

The final day of the Academy culminated with the teacher ambassadors taking the spotlight and leading local Tennessee science teachers through a full-day workshop focused on two of our lesson sets. In Good is Good Enough?, the Tennessee teachers used three-dimensional replicas of fossil horse teeth to investigate how changes in climate and vegetation led to large-scale changes in their size over millions of years due to natural selection. They then applied what they learned to create a hypothetical phylogenetic museum display of horse evolution and diversification that was free of misconceptions. In Climate Change in Your Own Backyard, the teachers participated in a dice-rolling activity that simulated the effects of global warming on extreme weather events, learned about the increasing rates at which billion-dollar disasters have been occurring in the United States, and investigated a variety of local climate impacts, including hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, and wildfires. “It was really useful to conduct a low-stakes presentation in order to get a feel for how to present the lesson sets and values of NCSE,” Alex Swavely reflected.

We look forward to the teacher ambassadors taking these experiences back to their home states and sharing NCSE’s message and lessons with science teachers all over the country in the coming years.

NCSE Teacher Support Partnership Specialist Blake Touchet.
Short Bio

Blake Touchet is a Science Education Specialist with NCSE's Supporting Teachers program.