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Earth & Space Systems - Advanced Content

Earth & Space Systems meets the more rigorous science content requirements demanded of middle school science and secondary science teachers by combining topics in chemistry, astronomy, climatology and geology normally taught in more advanced courses that pre-service teachers rarely take outside their own narrow disciplines. Since these topics have been removed from the traditional structure and context found in primary courses, the earth system science approach is used to integrate seemingly unrelated topics into a unified effort to explain the nature of the earth and planetary system around us.

Topics from astronomy and space physics are used to develop understanding of the bodies of the solar system, their origin and evolution of surface layers and atmospheres before placing the entire system into motion through Newton's and Kepler's Laws. Studies of planetary evolution from impact cratering and development of an oxidizing atmosphere on earth lead us to the rock cycle, rock metamorphism and a detailed study of stratigraphic relationships and principles. With these tools in hand an intense examination of rock types and features present at divergent and convergent plate boundaries and within depositional basins using local examples on field trips and slide shows brings a systematic understanding of site interpretation in a plate tectonic setting.

The topic Earth/sun relations builds a bridge in student learning between incoming solar radiation and the causes of glacial/interglacial transitions, by determining the earth's surface heat budget. Astronomical, greenhouse gas, and oceanic circulation based theories are examined as a vehicle to explore the causes of climate and the feedback mechanisms operating within the climate system. The hydrologic cycle is emphasized, with a focus on water budget issues and effects of floods.

Principles from chemistry, the most disconnected of the competencies assigned to this course, are covered by using them as tools explain earth system processes. For example, the evolution of the atmosphere uses Kinetic Molecular Theory to explain atmospheric sputtering and the current composition of the atmosphere. Development of earth's internal structure, formation of evaporite deposits and development of banded iron formations utilize Le Chatelier's Principle and concepts of equilibrium and separation of mixtures to develop student understanding.

The topics taught in this course would normally be spread over at least 5 courses in planetary astronomy, climatology, geomorphology, earth history and second semester introductory chemistry without the unifying concepts provided by Earth & Space Systems. Such a unified approach represents one solution to the contradictory goals of increasing pre-service teacher content knowledge while maintaining realistic curricula with 4 year completion time frames.

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