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Liberal Studies Science Experience Capstone: Role in the Program

Page prepared for SERC by Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman of California State University Northride.

A discussion of the design and implementation of a capstone laboratory course for liberal studies majors at California State University Northridge, created by Dr. Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

This laboratory course serves as a culminating science experience for Liberal Studies majors in the pre-credential and ITEP options. An interdisciplinary blend of biology, physics, chemistry, and earth and space sciences from lower division courses are integrated into the course as various topics are explored through the broad lens of earth science. Hands-on investigations include topics linked to California K-6 State Science Standards such as the nature of science, astronomy and the solar system, solar energy and meteorology, the water cycle, fossils and the evolution of life, rocks and minerals, natural resources, plate tectonics and Earth's structure, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and geomorphology.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

A lab manual designed in-house through Prentice Hall Custom Laboratory Program (GEOS) includes the relevant California K-8 State Science Standards for each topic at the beginning of each topic. For example, grades 5 and 6 Science Standards are given at the beginning of the section on The Atmosphere, because those grades include standards related to the atmosphere.

Currently the lab manual has many more activities than can be covered in a semester so that it can provide a resource for students and also permit instructors some options for choosing activities.

A first-day activity introduces students to the general notion of how scientific knowledge develops (a.k.a. the nature of science (NOS)). See NOS activity associated with this class that was submitted to the website.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

During the first month of the semester students design and write an informal lesson plan linking a natural science activity to a K-8 California State Science standard. The lesson plan is evaluated by the instructor and returned to the student at least once for improvements and rewrites. Each student presents their lesson to a small group of their peers near the end of the semester. Peer- and self-evaluation forms are completed by all students and handed into the instructor with the final lesson write-up.

How does the Course Transition Pre-service Teachers into the Classroom?

Some of the ways that student understanding of basic science content knowledge can be improved includes identifying and focusing on common misunderstandings (i.e., alternate conceptions), guiding class discussions about how children's thoughts progress on certain science topics, connecting course material to K-8 science standards and to the nature of science, incorporating student-created informal lesson plans into science courses, and providing students with opportunities to actually experience science teaching to children and become familiar with science-specific pedagogy.

How is the Course Content Aligned with the National Science Education Standards?

Each exercise is aligned with one or more of the California K-8 State Science Standards. A table created in the front of the lab manual summarizes these connections. This format does not allow me to paste in a table here, but I can include it as an attachment if anyone is interested.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

The class is newly created and required (as of Fall 2006) for all Liberal Studies Majors at CSUN in response to a mandated statewide agreement for Liberal Studies majors that allows students at all CSU campuses and all community colleges to share 46 units of lower division coursework, thus making it possible for CSUN Liberal Studies majors to fulfill all of their science requirements by taking lower division science courses at community colleges. This upper division required laboratory science capstone experience course is beneficial to all Liberal Studies majors because it ensures consistency in science content exposure for these Liberal Studies majors, emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of the various sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, and earth and space sciences), and focuses on bridging the various topics to content found in the California K-8 State Science Standards.

Course content covers earth science content requirements that students are expected to know to pass the Multiple Subject CSET (California Subject Examination Test), in particular portions of Subtest II (Science and Mathematics).

This 1-unit laboratory course will give students practical ties to the credentialing standards, including solid content and practical resources that can be applied in the classroom, that are essential in helping them prepare for their professional careers.

What Challenges have been Encountered in Teaching this Course? How have they been Resolved?

1. I wanted to integrate an actual biology lab activity (with the assistance of one of our biology faculty) so that the fossil activity could be tied to the topic of evolution. The biology faculty member suggested an activity using brine shrimp, which was interesting; however, once we did it with the class, it became evident that it was not really as relevant to evolution as we had been hoping. I have since removed that activity, but would still like to find something to link life sciences to earth sciences on this topic of the evolution of species and the fossil record.

2. Because we do not have time for all 32 students to present their 45-minute "informal earth science lesson" to the entire class, we have students present only to their group (4 students per group). This way someone from each group presents on Day 1 of the presentations, and after four class periods all students have presented. This round-robin style of presentation makes it difficult for instructor to assess students. I have the students evaluate their peers with a standard form, and I also have the presenters answer a self-evaluation form. The latter is very useful for me when I grade the presentations. The former, the peer evaluations, tend to be uniformly positive and thus not very useful.

3. This course is intended to be a "capstone" course, thus I want to reduce breadth of material presented and increase the depth of a small number of topics. I hope to use this workshop and several other professional development activities in which I will be engaged over the next few months to help me with this. The topics on which I would like to focus include the seasons, phases of the moon, plate tectonics, the rock cycle, and weather.

4. In an effort to keep all sections (typically seven sections are offered per semester taught by seven different instructors) on the same page, I hold weekly instructors' meetings during which we discuss how things went in the current lab and what to anticipate for the next lab. I have also created an instructors' guide, which at this point is 62 pages long. It includes sample syllabus, exams, review sheets, and weekly descriptions of laboratory activities.