Brandi Geisinger and Mari Kemis serve as evaluators for the NSF Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) Summer Academy for Middle School Teachers program. Summer Academy is a three-week professional development workshop to study the methods of biomass utilization to produce biorenewable products, including biofuels and bio-materials. Teachers are introduced to cutting-edge research underway at ISU to address the global challenges facing society’s dependence on finite sources of fossil based energy. The Summer Academy includes STEM curricula associated with this topic and applicable to the Iowa Core Curriculum and middle school science standards and benchmarks. The three weeks include presentations by ISU faculty and staff, hands-on lab activities, and field trips to Iowa’s biorenewables-related research facilities and bio-based industries. Teachers collaborate and develop classroom material to present to their students about biorenewables and associated careers.
The Summer Academy program evaluation involves annual pre-program and post-program surveys, as well as a focus group at the end of the program. The evaluation of the Summer Academy program has had a number of significant impacts, including: 1) Understanding the value of the Summer Academy program in altering teachers’ understanding and teaching of science; 2) Determining how an extended program in partnership with a diversely-populated school district results in substantive changes in teaching and learning; and 3) Supporting and encouraging data collection activities that demonstrate the impact of the Summer Academy program and provide guidance for Summer Academy program improvement.
The evaluation results from the 2016 program show that teachers made significant gains in their perceptions of biomass production and teaching biomass production from the time of the pre-program survey to the time of the post-program survey.