Teacher Preparation > Supporting Preservice Teachers > Browse Teacher Preparation Courses > MSU Earth Science Teaching Methods: Role in the Program

Earth Science Teaching Methods: Role in the Program

(Page Prepared for SERC by Sadredin C. Moosavi, Ph.D.)

A discussion of the design and implementation of an earth science teaching methods science at the Minnesota State University - Mankato, created by Sadredin C. Moosavi, Ph.D.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

This course focuses students on the design characteristics and logistical strategies needed to create a successful earth science course at the level they anticipate teaching. In this course students:
  1. Observe Practicing Earth Science Master Teachers
  2. Design a Course the Pre-service Teacher may be Assigned
  3. Find, Evaluate, Select and Integrate Materials
  4. Design Activities, Units & Demonstrations from Earth Science Content
  5. Give and Receive Peer Review of Designs
  6. Create Assessments Relevant for their Course
  7. Implement Designs with Actual K-12 Students
  8. Pre-site and Evaluate a "NEW" Field Trip with their Peers

How does the Course Address Each Role?

  1. Pre-service teachers in this course engage in several group and individual clinical experiences with K-16 students. Observation of general education college students using exercises the known to the pre-service teachers allows for detailed evaluation of the techniques employed in each case. These observations are expanded to master teachers in local schools working with material reflecting the K-12 curriculum.
  2. Throughout the course, the pre-service teachers design activities, demonstrations, assessment strategies and projects that would be incorporated within the framework of a course they expect to teach. While design of an entire course in all detail is beyond our objective, the pre-service teachers get experience with all the elements a course would require and must develop the structure in which the they funtion.
  3. As part of their course design the pre-service teachers are asked to use the internet, colleagues, library, catalogs and other materials to select textbooks, laboratory materials and other supporting equipment that would be needed to implement the course they are designing.
  4. In the context of the course they design, each pre-service teacher develops and tests examples of major course elements such as a laboratory, a demonstration, a student project, and assessment vehicles. The materials are tested and evaluated for effectiveness with actual K-12 students.
  5. A significant part of the learning process for each material developed is an intensive discussion and evaluation provided by classmates and instructor. The experience of learning to evaluate another's work plays a significant role in improving one's ability to objectively evaluate one's own work.
  6. Each pre-service teacher must develop a rubric based assessment scheme for all assignments developed and a strategy for overall student assessment in their course. These items are also discussed and peer reviewed.
  7. Once peer review has vetted the pre-service teacher's efforts select assignments are implemented with K-12 students as appropriate to the specific cooperating schools curriculum. Examples include sampling and analysis of local bodies of water for pollution and a discussion of teh science and participation in dinosaur digs.
  8. As a class the pre-service teachers are asked to identify and develop a new field trip that would be relevant and viable for schools in the region. All content, pedagogical and logistical aspects of the field trip must be developed before the trip is pre-sited with the instructor to evaluate it for "approval" by the principal. A trip to nature center focusing on river bottomlands exposing Cambrian sandstone, glacial till, water falls, and riparian processes and a trip to explore sinkholes and karst topograhy in a state park containing a large cave available for touring are examples.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

Integration of teaching and learning is a cornerstone of this course. Nearly 1/3 of the course involves development of assignments, demonstrations, projects and assessment rubrics for use with real K-16 students. A second third arises from observing how learning occurs with the instruments the students have developed when used on the target populations. Initially this analysis occurs using materials developed by the instructor which the students have encountered in other courses. The insights gained from this process inform the pre-service teachers design efforts before their materials are used with real students. Discussion of the successes and failings of all assignments occur in class wide discussions providing more immediate and detailed feedback than woudl normally be available to a new instructor.

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

This course is directed primarily at helping to ease the transition between the university and K-12 classroom over the first few years of professional practice.

The entire course format is focused on helping pre-service teachers consider the design of a course they will teach from start to finish. This is fundamentally different than what occurs in student teaching when the pre-service teacher practices the day to day skills needed to implement a course that has already been designed for them.

Here they are in the driver's seat and must consider the larger objectives and standards of their curriculum while attempting to balance limited time and equipment with content. The students are challenged to identify the resources they will need for success whether they be physical experimental materials, textbooks, demonstrations, laboratory exercises, assessment regimes, etc. In many cases materials from off the shelf can be adjusted for their particular circumstances. Often, however, the pre-service teacher must design material from scratch.

Students in this course also have the opportunity to observe actual students learning in the classroom using materials designed by their instructor and ultimately themselves. Significant effort is spend analyzing why a particular exercise is designed and used as it is. The inevitable compromises that need to be made between best practice and unalterable limitations such as large class sizes are encountered, reasoned and measured for their overall effectiveness.

Students are also exposed to longer term issues such as trends in education reform and maintaining their own professional development so that they are prepared for these issues when they encounter them. The full benefits of this course only become apparent after student teaching during the initial years of professional practice.

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

This course is allied to the National Science Education Standards regarding practices and proceses of science. It also contains significant investigation of the standards themselves, the reasons for their creation and provides examples of how standards can be interpreted and implemented in the larger context of education reform efforts in an individual school and classroom.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

This course is required to obtain the 9-12 Earth Science Teaching license from the Minnesota Board of Teaching. As per certification requirements, the instructor of the course must have an advanced degree in earth science along with relevant K-12 teaching experience, i.e. sufficient to be a certified earth science teacher in the state of Minnesota.

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

A number of challenges have been encountered in Earth Science Teaching Methods relating to larger programmatic issues and the need to coordinate with partners external to the university.
  1. Staffing the Course

    The Earth Science Methods course has an annual enrollment varying between 1 and 7 spread over Fall and Spring semesters. It should be taken the semester before student teaching. The small numbers make the course very expensive to operate and prevent its being offered more than once every 2 or 3 semesters. This can cause students to take the course prematurely or delay their graduation as they wait for the course to be offered. Overall staffing shortages in geology further complicate offering this course on an adequate time scale. Hiring of adjuncts to relieve this portion of the load has proven impractical as the state certification standards require the instructor to have adequate geological expertise and appropriate K-12 teaching experience, an almost non-existent population in rural southern Minnesota.

    The problem has been managed thus far by careful scheduling and advising of students with the available faculty combined with selective combining of the course with other science methods courses. This latter solution is unsatisfactory as it violates certification rules and gives the students a less than satisfactory experience in their earth science discipline. A better solution is outlines under final problem, combining all the science methods courses into a team taught course that could be offered every semester by a fully qualified team of instructors.

  2. Scheduling Clinical Experiences

    Providing students the opportunity to observe master teachers and work with K-12 students in the classroom is a critical aspect of any science methods course. The pre-service teachers in this course complete it to achieve high school level earth science teaching licensure. Obtaining the opportunity for these students to observe practicing master teachers in high school earth science is most difficult, however, because most Minnesota schools do not offer high school earth science, or do so only as an elective. MSU's location in rural southern Minnesota compounds this problem because only a limited number of schools lie within reasonable driving distance of the university and appropriate placements within these schools are often taken by more advanced students in the process of student teaching or occur in schools so inundated with large numbers of education students that normal operations cannot be observed.

    We have attempted to deal with this situation by seeking opportunities for observation in more removed districts lying near a student's home, where they have a place to stay and by being flexible with the grade levels being observed. Alumni from professional development workshops (Minnesota Mineral Education Workshop) and field courses have been very helpful in this regard for they provide the initial connection and give the instructor of this course some knowledge about what occurs in a school that is too far for them to visit regularly. In this instance the small number of students we deal with is a positive attribute. We also supplement our students high school observation experiences with observation of general education students in the general education course Our Geologic Environment. This approach has been quite successful as the level of student background knowledge is often similar to that of high school students without the degree of classroom management issues one normally encounters, allowing pre-service teachers to focus on content and pedagogical issues over behavior management. This last arrangement is most effective when the Methods instructor is also instructor of the general education course.

  3. Obtaining the Interdisciplinary Experience

    The existence of 4 separate science discipline methods courses at MSU is designed to meet state licensure requirements in each field, but provides an artificial environment for the pre-service teachers. In most schools, teachers are organized into multidisciplinary science departments in which earth science teachers interact with colleagues in all the sciences. These exchanges help give coherence to the curriculum by allowing informal sharing of information regarding what and how particular content is covered in other courses. The discipline specific methods courses isolate pre-service teachers in a way that is unlike what they will actually encounter leaving them less prepared for the wider issues that arise in real departments.

    In the short term I have address these types of issues in the Earth & Space Systems course which contains all science education students regardless of discipline. A better approach would be to combine the Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Earth Science Methods courses into a single team taught course. The significant methods overlap would be accommodated in such a class while leaving opportunity for discipline specific clinical experiences. Further, the larger class size (around 20) combined with the diversity of student classroom experiences would facilitate improved discussion of what actually occurs in real science departments and classrooms.