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Pacific Northwest Geology: Role in the Program

Page prepared for SERC by Beth Pratt-Sitaula of Central Washington University.

A discussion of the design and implementation of a regional geology and methods course serving pre-service teachers at Central Washington University, created by Beth Spratt-Sitaula.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

This is the only class in the university that is specifically designed for the Earth Science Teaching Majors. All other classes they take are designed for all education majors, all secondary science teaching majors, or traditional geology majors. This class has two main roles—providing content knowledge of the geology of this region (where many of them go on to teach) and giving them an opportunity to start teaching earth science topics. Particular emphasis is placed on developing their skills in inquiry-based field trip design and leadership.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

1) Pacific NW geologic content knowledge - Each student is required to become an "expert" on a certain region of feature of NW Geology and then share the knowledge with their classmates. The different regions are stitched together via a wall-sized chart that covers NW Geology from both a temporal and spatial perspective. The students also complete a "Pictorial History" of their region of interest—a book that visually depicts how one part of the Pacific NW has looked at different time in the geologic past. This picture book also gives the students experience translating geologic content knowledge from primary sources to a level that will work for their students, which leads to Role #2...

2) Learning to teach in the earth science (special emphasis on designing and leading field trips) - To this end they do a lab themselves to determine the geologic history of a local hill. They then redesign the lab and lead it for local 9th graders. Another major project is designing their own field trip to a site near where they hope to teach. Students also spend two weeks teaching earth science laboratories in the local middle school.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

The students are required in several exercises to learn material and then turn around and teach it (see above).

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

Students spend 3 weeks of the 10 week quarter teaching secondary students earth science topics.

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

The primary emphasis is on NSES A & B as the students learn science content and turn around and teach it. The inquiry they engage in is "guided inquiry" more than "open-ended inquiry". In most cases the motivating question is at least partially defined by the teacher.
Standard A: Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based program for their students.
Standard B: Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning.

The class also works quite closely with each other on both small group and whole-class projects, so they get practice in developing communities of learners - NSES E.
Standard E: Teachers of science develop communities of learners that reflect the intellectual rigors of scientific inquiry and the attitudes and social values conducive to science learning.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

The state of Washington requires secondary science teachers to have a bachelor's degree in their science field and to pass the PRAXIS II in their subject. This course is a required part of the Earth Science Teaching Major and thus must be taken to receive their degree. The science content it contains addresses some of the earth science content required by Washington State for "competency". It also addresses various components of other knowledge requirements. These include: Nature of Science, Inquiry, Skills in Teaching, and Social Context.

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

I am currently teaching the class for the second time, so I consider it to be still very much a work in progress. Some of the issues that I have come across include:
  1. Student dedication - although the CWU students did a great and professional job in the classrooms, I was very bothered last year by poor attendance and tardiness of students for the CWU classroom portion of the class. This year I decided to try to set high expectations from the beginning. I made it clear that this was going to be a class with a lot of work. I made the rule that more than one unexcused absence would result in failing the class. I have also done a much more thorough job of articulating expectations (better, more consistent rubrics, for instance). So far attendance has been very good and the students seem to be putting a concerted effort in to the class.
  2. Class size and makeup - CWU only averages ~3 Earth Science Teaching Majors per year. Broad Area Science Minors also take the class, but there are only a few of them too, so the class is also to non-teaching majors to ensure a class size above 3-5. Therefore it generally contains at least half non-teaching majors. By clearly emphasizing the teaching requirements of the course, I have been able to ensure that even the non-teaching majors are active participants.
  3. Geologic content knowledge—the course only has Geol 101 as a required prerequisite, so there is generally a very wide range of geologic skills from almost none to quite proficient. This year I have had more success with evening out the skill gaps by doing a more focused Geol 101 review the first week. I also make a point of spreading the Earth Science Teaching Majors between groups. I tell them that their teaching practice starts with mentoring less experienced peers.