The current project proposes an innovative professional development (PD) program in environmental health research experiences for science high-school teachers from schools with high poverty levels in North Carolina. In a collaborative effort, experts from the College of Education and scientists affiliated with the Center for Human Health and Environment (CHHE), and the Comparative Medicine Institute (CMI) at NC State University will provide teachers (N=40) with unique authentic lab experiences. The 8-week summer research PD program aims at enhancing teachers' environmental health literacy and research skills that will support novel science teaching strategies.
The specific aims addressed by the program are the following: 1) to provide teachers with a practical understanding of the scientific method in mentored research projects examining links between environmental stressors and health; 2) to provide teachers with an understanding of core conceptual issues in toxicology; 3) to train teachers in ethical issues in scientific conduct, science communication, and public health; 4) to immerse teachers in authentic research lab experiences by using a cognitive apprenticeship model; and 5) to develop a comprehensive evaluation plan in order to assess the short- and long- term PD outcomes. In the proposed environmental health science (EHS) research PD program, teachers will be integrated into genuine research projects and attend lab meetings, gaining general knowledge of how research is conducted and specialized knowledge related to ongoing projects in their host lab. Additionally, teachers in the program will come together one day per week in a workshop environment, to share their diversity of research experiences and gain additional training in biological concepts and ethical issues related to environmental health sciences.
Environmental health research experiences are often inaccessible to high-school teachers, particularly in high-poverty schools. Our PD program will provide teachers with scientific knowledge and resources to improve their classroom instruction by adopting a curriculum grounded in environmental health research. Further, teachers' newly acquired EHS knowledge and research skills have the potential to improve student science learning, and promote interest and readiness for STEM careers. By exposing students to novel instructional strategies, students will acquire not just STEM specialized knowledge, but develop STEM domain identification. This is particularly important for science, given the fact that students from high- poverty schools are economically disadvantaged and may comprise a large proportion of individuals from minority groups that are underrepresented in science.