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Earth Natural Resource Systems

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

A discussion of the design and implementation of a general education lab science course serving pre-service teachers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, created by David Gosselin, Ph.D.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

Earth Natural Resource Systems provides pre-service elementary and middle school teachers content and pedagogy related experiences and resources for their future classrooms. Scientific processes are emphasized over simple memorization of facts.
  1. Course content focuses on Earth as a system upon which humans rely for critical resources.
  2. Students take part in hands-on, inquiry based experimental design and data collection activities modeled after best practices, some of which can be directly transferred to the K-8 classroom.
  3. Students utilize technology in their experimental design to expand data collection abilities.
  4. Pre-service teachers examine the learning process as they are exposed to new content through instruction and experimentation.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

  1. The course curriculum is focused on earth system and hydrologic cycles which provide services and resources to human societies. Examination of stream flow data gives students the opportunity to collect and analyze spatial data on a common phenomenon (precipitation) to determine if and where flooding will be a problem. Such an analysis could also be used to examine drought potential or locate a water dependent neighborhood or industrial facility.
  2. Class projects for which students must design data collection schemes before analysis provide students an example of how science is actually performed with topics and materials available to most K-8 teachers. Soil pits are dug to examine soil profiles and development giving students a "field trip" experience that can be transferred to most school settings at reasonable cost.
  3. Use of the internet to access actual earth science data gives students a chance to incorporate technology into the classroom while extending the range of data available for analysis. Other experiments use data loggers to monitor soil and air temperature and humidity to determine conditions appropriate for seedling development.
  4. As students learn, the development of their ideas and understanding of the scientific processes and concepts are examined regularly through online journals.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

The mixed population of students found in this course necessitates modeling of best practice for a hands-on, activity-based earth science course. All the students are asked to engage in the scientific method through designing and implementing basic experiments with an earth science theme. The weekly logs, on-line journals, and quizzes assist students in tracking their own learning process as the course progresses.

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

Modeling of a hands-on, activity-based approach to teaching science serves to give pre-service teachers a positive example of how one might teach earth science early in their academic program as their ideas about pedagogy are still being formed. Course activities are focused as much on the process of science as on specific earth science content.

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

This course is consistent with the earth science content in the National Science Education Standards.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

This course fulfills the lab physical science requirement for University of Nebraska-Lincoln education students. It is not specifically required for teacher certification in Nebraska.

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

As a stand-alone course serving a wide audience beyond pre-service teachers, Earth Natural Resource Systems faces a number of challenges.
  1. Student Science Phobia

    Successful teaching of this course requires that one remember that it caters to non-science general education students relatively early in their college careers. Most have had no science classes in college or perhaps a single Geology Science 101 style course. Students lack both basic content and thought processes of science. Students' past experiences with science often include struggle and failure causing them to harbor a distrust or dislike of science. They need to gain some content and success using that information to gain the confidence needed for understanding and teaching more advanced material.

    The course demonstrates the relevance of scientific content to the students' lives and gives them a successful experience conducting science by helping them to understand the processes of science. The course content is built around relevance to the general education audience. For example, less time is spent learning to identify rocks and minerals than on understanding that different rocks and minerals tell us about what has happened in a place in the past and on what the material in question can be used for in today's world.

    The processes of science are examined through the self designed projects in which students use the scientific process to examine tractable questions with meaningful results. The thought processes involved along the way are recorded in student on-line journals. Pre-service teachers have the added benefit of practical examples that they can transfer directly into K-8 classrooms.

    The goal at the end of the semester is for all students to see that they have the skills to do science. The pre-service teachers see that they CAN teach science successfully in their classrooms and will be more inclined to do so in the future.

  2. Incorporating Technology
    Incorporating technology into this class, which serves scienfitic novices, in a manner that future teachers could replicate was a particular challenge because technology plays a big part in the mysterious black box of science. Techonology had to be included in a fashion that helps students perceive how technology serves as a tool to extend our own senses' ability to comprehend the natural world. In this course students use internet technology to collect stream flow and precipitation data for use in understanding the source of water in rivers and forecasting floods. Data loggers are used to monitor soil and air moisture and temperature to determine the conditions when seeds will grow best. While these applications of technology are relatively simple, they demonstrate the role technology plays in the PROCESS of science.
  3. Balancing Content Quantity with Quality
    The amount of content important for these novice students to learn easily exceeds the class time available during this stand-alone course. The course focuses student learning on high quality experiences that give students scientific skills and demonstrate scientific processes over broad content coverage. By giving students a successful experience and skills to take with them, the students gain the ability to be life-long learners of science as situations in the future afford.