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Earth & Space Systems - Earth System


In this course, students approach the interdisciplinary content from the Earth system perspective. While this approach is used throughout the course it is best demonstrated by the example below.

  • The course begins with examination of planetary data in order to classify the planets into 2 or 3 groups by observable causative physical properties. After significant discussion the students identify the terrestrial and gas giant planets as fundamentally different groups of bodies. Pluto is found to be either an outlier or lone representative of a third group of icy worlds.
  • The analysis continues with inquiry into the atmospheres of the planets and speculation as to their origins setting the stage for planetary evolution.
  • A more detailed inquiry of surface conditions on the terrestrial planets and Earth's Moon reveals further evidence for planetary evolution. Students find evidence for resurfacing of the larger bodies (Venus, Earth, Mars) but not the smaller Mercury and Moon. Continued speculation and examination of inferred internal planetary conditions leads to different models of resurfacing.
  • The detailed analysis of the terrestrial planets it then expanded to select satellites in the outer solar system including the Galilean satellites, Titan and minor moons of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Students identify the parallels to terrestrial planet evolution, with different degrees of tidal heating determining the nature of the Galilean satellites, and discover a population of bodies into which Pluto seems to fit.
  • The discovery of planetary resurfacing and the atmospheres which result and feedback in to it opens the door to plate tectonics on earth, transition from an anaerobic to aerobic atmosphere through actions of living organisms, etc. Students identify possible environments capable of supporting life elsewhere in the solar system while speculating on the changes that would could have sent Venus, Mars, Europa or Titan on a more Earth-like path.
  • As the course moves through study of the rock cycle, rock structures for major tectonic environments present in the past, evidence for the anaerobic/aerobic atmospheric transition visible in Minnesota's iron formations, and the role of basic chemical principles all bring the students back to Earth's continuing surficial evolution from chemical reactions at the molecular level to the scale of the solar system.

    Upon completion of the course, the students see Earth as a member in a chorus of evolving bodies following a uniform set of observable natural laws.