Educating for Environmental Change: Summer Science Institutes Prepare Teachers with Real World Training

2018 SSI Institute Poster Session

On a sultry June evening in 2018 a crowd of teachers toured a display of posters at Jordan Hall on the Indiana University (IU)  Bloomington Campus. The poster session was a part of the 2018 Summer Science Institute (SSI): Educating for Environmental Change, a three-day training for a select group of Indiana middle and high school teachers.

The SSI offered hands-on workshops as well as opportunities for teachers to network with scientists and researchers in a variety of science fields. The evening poster session, featuring the work of twenty  IU graduate students, was designed so that the students could dive deeper into their research while giving the teachers an opportunity to engage with the complexities and challenges of climate change. 

“It’s good for these (IU) students to learn how to explain the more complicated subjects like biology and chemistry,” said  Michael Hamburger, professor of geophysics at the IU Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It allows teachers to bring knowledge back to their classrooms.”  

During the session, teachers and students were able to learn about current issues. Dozens of posters, highlighting the science behind environmental change, were presented by the scientists who had conducted the research. 

Philippa Tanford, a graduate research technician from Duke University focusing on an invasive wetland grass,

Phillipa Tanford, 2018 SSI Poster Session

presented a poster about using plant-fungus to help battle invasive plant species. According to Tanford, the poster session helped her question her own research and discover where she still had more discoveries to make. 

“[The posters session] teaches students how to communicate science to the general public and include people from non-scientific backgrounds,” Tanford said.  

The Summer Science Institutes 2018 and 2019 – The 2018 and Educating for Environmental Change 2019 Summer Science Institutes are funded by the IU Grand Challenges and hosted by The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology. Through the IU Grand Challenges’ funding and support of the IU Environmental Resilience Institute, the institutes are provided to Indiana teachers at no cost. All expenses for housing, food, travel and materials are covered by the grant. 

The 2018 institute took place from June 13 – 15 at the IU Griffy Nature Preserve and consisted of a series of in-service workshops that offered interactive and collaborative learning opportunities for Indiana teachers. There were 17 different schools represented from the 19 teachers in attendance at the 2018 Summer Science Institute after reaching a record high of 60 applicants statewide.  

“By putting teachers in that space together, we’re positioning them as scientists and researchers right away, which allows them to access tools they may not have had and value the knowledge they are bringing in,” Emmy Brockman, educational director at WonderLab, said. 

2018 SSI Learning in the Field at the IU Griffy Nature Preserve

Brockman explained that connecting these teachers with a network of state peers teaching the same subjects is powerful. IU professors and WonderLab educators, including Brockman, led teachers in discussions and workshops that focused on environmental science through asking questions like: How do we know that climate change is taking place, and how do we know that humans have caused these changes? What are the effects of environmental change? What can teachers, students and citizens do to prepare for the impact and results of environmental change? 

“Those conversations are important and challenging.” Brockman said. “We want to support teachers so that they are able to meet their students and communities in their understanding of environmental change and bring scientific data to the table so then their students can decide what story the data tells.” 

WonderLab has hosted Summer Science Institute for 15 years at the museum, however, thanks to the generous funding the 2018 institute took place at off-site locations utilizing spaces at IU. The same is happening this year, for the 2019 SSI.  According to Brockman, the IU Grand Challenges’ funding has allowed the institute to grow and have a wider impact. These are also the first set of institutes focused on the topic of environmental change. 

The IU Grand Challenges – The IU Grand Challenges are focused on harnessing the power of research to solve major problems facing the Indiana and ultimately, the world. 

IU professors and students collaborate to address three main initiatives for the IU Grand Challenges: Precision Health Initiative, Responding to the Additions Crisis and Prepared for Environmental Change. Their mission is to “apply the combined power of IU researchers who have dedicated their lives to their field of expertise to address the economic, social, and environmental problems negatively impacting our state and the world.”  

According to the National Center for Environmental Information, extreme weather conditions have cost the state of Indiana $6 billion in the past five years alone. The National Climate Assessment projects that temperatures in the Midwest will rise by 4 degrees in the next century, and according to a 2010 study conducted by Mishra and Cherkauer, Indiana’s corn and soybean crops will greatly suffer from such conditions as well. 

“Environmental change is an intersectional issue,” said Brockman. “It impacts not just our climate but also what jobs are available to us, industries and agriculture. Right now more than ever, we need to think strategically as citizens of the world about how we can confront our 21st century issues so that we can continue to be a resilient species going forward and understand that things are changing, and we need to be prepared to deal with that. The people who carry this burden and this opportunity are the youth. Giving them the tools as young as possible to deal with these issues is important.”  

Connecting Teachers to Right-Now Scientific Research – The IU Grand Challenges, the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and WonderLab introduced information and continued the conversation on environmental change with a pro-teacher stance on education through the 2018 Summer Science Institute. 

By taking part, teachers connected with professionals with expertise in the fields of environmental sciences, which offered them knowledge on current, science facts and research taken straight from the field to incorporate in their classroom curriculums.    

“I want teachers to say: ‘there’s some cool research going on at IU and the people doing it look a lot like my students,” said Dr. Kirstin Milks, Earth and Space Science and Advanced Biology teacher at Bloomington High School South and a key player in the 2018 Summer Science Institute. 

“You teach a student to do something, and you’ve taught one student, and that’s great,” Brockman said. “But you teach a teacher to do something, and I think that exponentially expands the impact of what you’ve done.”   

The 2019 Summer Science Institute, funded by the IU Grand Challenges and hosted by WonderLab is happening July 8-12, 2019 at various locations on the IU Bloomington Campus. This year the institute has been expanded to also include training for elementary teachers as well as middle and high school teacher. More than 30 teachers are expected to attend. 


About the Author – Meredith Hardy is a WonderLab Writing and Content Development Intern. She graduated from Indiana Unversity in 2019 with a degree in in Media Advertising and specializing in Public Relations and Sex, Gender and Media.