I’m sure we’ve all been asked, “How did you spend your summer vacation?” We usually describe the obligatory family trip, visits to the community pool with the kids or—if you’re really creative and not averse to making things up—wolverine hunts in Alaska with your uncle (Napoleon Dynamite fans will understand). But how often do you get the chance to brag to your friends and colleagues that you searched for fossils over the summer by sieving through 20-million-year-old paleo-sediment deposits, or took behind-the-scenes tours of some of the most popular exhibits at the largest museum research complex in the world?
This year 63 teachers got the chance to do that and more during a hands-on professional development experience at the 2013 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs). Each summer, the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) Professional Services staff members create and deliver three week-long professional development courses for teachers of science on the topics of Biodiversity, Energy and Earth History & Global Change. These courses were created to bridge the gap between formal and informal science education by combining training in science content and pedagogy with behind-the-scenes experiences at a wide variety of Smithsonian Institution units, Smithsonian affiliate partners, and world-class science research facilities throughout the Washington, DC area. Teachers took pre- and post-assessments before and after the program, and had a great time learning effective methods to better understand and teach science. On the post-assessment at the end of each Academy week, they demonstrated on average a 26% increase in science knowledge!
For the Biodiversity Academy, teachers had the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum all to themselves as they explored the butterfly exhibit, butterfly pavilion, and the insect zoo exhibit, and then went behind the scenes in the insect lab—all before the museum opened to the public.