Science education is a profession, and as such, professional development is imperative to the practice, just as in the medical, dental and other professions. Professional development occurs in many settings and structures. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and state affiliates sponsor multi-disciplinary education conferences both nationally and regionally. Discipline specific education conferences are sponsored by organizations such as the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) and American Chemical Society (ACS). Conferences last from one to five days, and offer college credit, continuing education units or verified contact hours in response to the differing state methods of certifying teacher professional development. All have in common the National Research Council (NRC) National Science Education Standards (NSES) for Professional Development (PD). The PD standards are summarized as learning about science, learning about science pedagogy, learning about inquiry-based learning, and life long integrated and coordinated professional development. Science education conferences held across the country consistently address the first three; the last standard is a challenge to address. National, state and local conferences provide science content delivered by nationally recognized scientists and pedagogists to large groups of educators, as well as networking opportunities and exposure to new curriculum and other science classroom products.
The SETI Institute mission statement not only guides our research, but our education and outreach efforts as well. Our mission is multi-generational, and therefore we strive to increase students and professionals in all science disciplines and technology. Astrobiology and the Drake equation, our research agenda, encompasses all disciplines of science. Our NASA funded efforts, SOFIA, Kepler Mission and NASA Astrobiology Institute Education and Public Outreach (EPO), include workshops and short courses held at these conferences. SETI Institute scientists and our ever increasing number of network educators have been keynote, feature and luncheon speakers and workshop facilitators at NSTA, and our state affiliate, CSTA, AAPT, ACS, NESTA, NABT and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conferences. The Institute short courses match current research science talks with inquiry-based curriculum. Our astrobiology expertise is of great interest, as the perpetual student lament "Why does this matter?" can be answered. The response in all disciplines from astronomy and physics, to chemistry and biology is "We are star stuff!"
Teachers that have participated in our curriculum pilot and field tests, Astrobiology Summer Science Experience for Teachers (ASSET) members, and other teachers interested in a leadership role, comprise our educator network. Our limited funding does not allow us to be a part of each and every relevant conference. The educator network has extended our effective reach to science education conferences and events in Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, and New York, with more workshops in the pipeline. Education events and public talks are posted on the events calendar on our website. To join the educator network and receive the SETI Institute Education quarterly newsletter visit the EPO page.
Science education conferences have evolved to offer focus strands for beginning science teachers, on the nature of science and inquiry, and on evolution. Sample workshops and course titles include Using Discrepant Events to Teach the Nature of Science, More Than Memorizing: Helping Students to Think About Science, Open Ended Labs and Activities, Understanding and Teaching Evolution, Concept Mapping, and Hands-on Demonstrations for Light and Color. The topics covered address the first PD standards. SETI Institute short courses Extreme Life Forms on Earth and Elsewhere, Becoming Human: Hominid Evolution from Voyages Through Time, and Origins: The Questions in Life Science were offered this fall at CSTA and NABT. The Origins: The Questions in Life Science short course featuring Dr. Jamie Elsila's science talk on astrochemistry and astrobiology - tracking carbon molecules for interstellar space to extreme Earthly environments and extreme environments extra-solar environments, and organisms - was coupled with the Origin of Life Module from Voyages Through Time, and was scored highly by the participants. Our CSTA exhibit demonstrating infrared light and the transit method of detection was quite popular again. The distribution of the NASA Origins Forum EM Spectrum Poster and NAI poster guarantees visitors to our exhibit. The Institutes courses or workshops are often selected to fulfill the focus strand requirements based on evaluations and recommendations.
Teachers face lack of qualified substitute science teachers and lack of travel and registration funds. Yet they attend, full of enthusiasm and drive, and are grateful for the Institute's vision of improving science education and stimulating interest in the next generation of astrobiology researchers. Thousands of science teachers attend a conference every year, making a difference in countless numbers of students' learning.