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Can providing teachers with information about the neurobiology of learning improve K-12 teaching and student learning? Yes, according to University of Minnesota researchers, who recently published their findings in the journal Educational Researcher. Those findings were also selected as an "Editor's Choice" in Science magazine.

By studying attendees of BrainU, a professional development workshop that teaches neuroscience principles of learning to in-service teachers, neuroscience professor Janet Dubinsky, RoehrigG-2004.jpgcurriculum and instruction associate professor Gillian Roehrig (left), and educational psychology associate professor Sashank Varma discovered that understanding of and engagement in neuroscience concepts improved for attending teachers and their students. Teaching the concept of "plasticity," as designed by the Society for Neuroscience, provided a model for understanding student learning in response to teacher instruction, which was a key concept taught in the BrainU workshop.

VarmaS-2011.jpg"Our empirical evaluation of BrainU finds that it improved teacher understanding of neuroscience and confidence in teaching neuroscience," said Varma (right). "This understanding translated to improved classroom instruction compared to control teachers. There was more evidence of inquiry-based learning on the part of teachers and of students engaging in higher-order thinking, displaying greater depth of knowledge, making deeper connections to the world, and engaging in more substantive conversations with teachers."

The researchers conclude their journal article with advice for integrating neuroscience principles of learning into the training of pre-service teachers.

Read the article "Infusing Neuroscience Into Teacher Professional Development," in Educational Researcher.

Also see "When Neuroscience Guides Education" in Science magazine.

RoehrigG.jpgCurriculum and Instruction Associate Professor Gillian Roehrig has been selected for the Association for Science Teacher Education 2013 Award II - Outstanding Mentor of the Year. This award honors and encourages ASTE members who support and encourage pre-service and in-service science teachers and new science teacher educators entering the profession. It also seeks to recognize the valuable contributions of mentors to the profession of science teacher education. This is an honor and achievement for Roehrig, as well as for the STEM Education Center and the University of Minnesota.

Roehrig receives this award at the Annual ASTE International conference awards and business luncheon on Saturday, Jan 12, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas.

Craig Seibert.jpgThis month, we had the chance to catch up with C&I Alum, Craig Seibert, a science educational consultant and recently-elected Board President for the Friends of Rookery Bay in Naples, Florida. Craig earned his M.Ed. in Science Education at the University of Minnesota in 1984, and taught high school science for 21 years. In 1996, he was selected as the Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year for Collier County. From 1999 to 2006, he served as the science coordinator for Collier County Public Schools in Naples, FL.

In his new role as the Board President of the Friends of Rookery Bay, Craig will work to build support for the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of 28 research reserves across the United States. Below, Craig answers a few questions for us.

Tell us a little bit about you. What do you do in your free time?
I was a high school science teacher for 21 years (1 year in Sherburn, MN, 6 years in Spring Lake Park, MN and 14 years in Naples, FL), and after that I became the Science Coordinator for Collier County Public Schools in Naples. I'm currently a science educational consultant. Education has always been my passion and I enjoy teaching students and teachers alike.

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my wife of 32 years, golfing, and spending summers at our lake home on Ten Mile Lake near Hackensack, MN and wintering in Naples.

What gets you excited about your work? What really motivates you?
I am currently involved with developing inquiry-based science programs for Pre-K through 5th grade. Our children are our future and we need to help prepare them to be critical thinkers. We need to challenge our youth to compete with the rest of the world and provide them the tools to keep the United States competitive whether that be in education, research, industry or any other field in the market place.

I think my passion for teaching came from some of the great teachers I had as I was going through our educational system. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student understand a concept or seeing that light come on and knowing you had a small part in their understanding. It was fun to see students grow right in front of you over the years. A teacher has an awesome responsibility to help mold a student's learning. We as a nation need to see that value and reward those teachers for the hard work they put in every day.

How does your degree come in handy? How has it prepared you for your career both in and outside the classroom?
I believe my master's degree opened doors for me after I left the classroom to become a science coordinator for our school system. My degree also helped open doors in the consulting world once I retired from the public school system. There is no doubt that the University of Minnesota M.Ed. has been extremely helpful throughout my career.

What you will be doing in your new position?
As the incoming President of the Friends of Rookery Bay (FORB), I will be charged with helping the National Research Reserve move forward to protect our precious estuaries found in Southwest Florida. The FORB group's mission is to connect people with Southwest Florida's dynamic estuarine environment through education, engagement, and stewardship by supporting the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Do you have a motto or a set of words to live by?
"There are no short cuts to success," and "treat others as you would like to be treated."

BhattacharyaD-2011.jpgMy interest in environmental science and education began with my own experiences in field research environments. There always seemed to be a gap between the caliber of scientific research in environmental science and the level of public understanding about it. This made me curious about what constituted learners' conceptual understandings about critical science issues and if there were specific tools that could be designed to assess and improve it.

I found myself specifically engaged in the context of Global Climate Change Education. Even though there have been massive efforts to mitigate the effects of global climate change (GCC), the research and practice for promoting climate literacy and understanding of GCC have only recently become a national priority in the U.S. For instance, the National Research Council's 2012 report, Framework for K-12 Science Education recently emphasized student reasoning, argumentation skills and understanding of GCC and therefore dictates two responsibilities for teachers:

  1. Foster conceptual clarity in students.

  2. Promote innovation, resilience, and readiness in students so they can respond to the threat of a changing environment.

Past research in teacher understanding of the science and basics of GCC has shown that in spite of prevalent frameworks such as the Essential Principles for Climate Literacy, teachers continue to struggle in understanding the science behind GCC. Misinformed perceptions about basic climate science content and the role of human activities in the GCC scenario are persistent. Consequently, we need extensive efforts focused on both improving and assessing teachers' conceptual understanding about the science behind GCC.

My doctoral dissertation, with support of University of Minnesota's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, develops multi-pronged methods that are capable of eliciting a learner's overall construct of knowledge about GCC. This study, which uses multiple tools for assessment of teachers' understanding, will also reveal their misconceptions and the gaps in the knowledge of science teachers about GCC. Such information is both novel and critical for science educators in designing materials intended for teachers' professional development.

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship has allowed me to focus all my efforts towards the pursuit of this research, helping me make solid progress while doing high quality work. I am thankful to my adviser Dr. Gillian Roehrig for her guidance and my peers for their support throughout this process. I look forward to completing my project in May 2014 and am preparing for the academic job market in the fall of 2014.

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