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Matter & Energy in Earth Systems: 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 content course for K-8 pre-service teachers at Western Washington University, created by Susan Debari, Ph.D.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

In Matter & Energy in Earth Systems pre-service teachers combine content knowledge with pedagogical exploration in fulfilling the following objectives:
  1. Learn and understand fundamental earth science concepts in depth.
  2. Approach science in a metacognitive way allowing them to track their own thinking and learning.
  3. Observe and take part in a course where inquiry based learning is modeled.
  4. Take part in scientific process while learning to cite evidence to support conclusions.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

  1. Matter & Energy in Earth Systems focuses on tracking the flow of matter and energy through the rock cycle, plate tectonics, the water cycle and atmosphere. This generates a 'systems' approach by demonstrating the interconnections between earth's geological manifestations, their causes and consequences. Students know not just what is there, but why it is there and how it fits in with other elements of the system. While the time required for such an approach places practical limits on the number of topics covered, the body of knowledge taken away by students represents an integrated 3-dimensional scaffolding of earth systems from which children's questions can be answered and upon which new information can be meaningfully grafted.
  2. Special focus in placed on helping students identify HOW they learn scientific concepts during this course and its companions. At the relatively early stage in the program at which this course falls, students focus on keeping journals of the scientific process and their learning. This gets them in the habit of thinking about how they learn.
  3. The field trips and laboratories in this course are designed such that students must ask questions and guide their learning based on principles from the scientific method. An example comes from observing the dichotomy of earth's crust (oceanic and continental elevations). Students are tasked to explain their observation by examining the density of different materials and the effects of this has on buoyancy.
  4. The students must cite evidence from their analysis before proceeding to the next step. Ultimately such experimentation leads to isostatic principles which in turn lead to the rock cycle, earth's internal structure, plate tectonics, etc. Students construct their knowledge of the content by observing, asking and answering questions in sequence.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

This course acts under the premise that students teach as they are taught. Through the series of Matter and Energy courses and the Investigative Science capstone course students are given an opportunity to participate in an inquiry based approach to teaching science. Journals of their own learning process give students insight into how science can be learned and internalized, a skill they will bring with them to future classrooms.

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

This course and its counterparts are completed before students take their science teaching methods and clinical classes. This gives students an example of how the science should be taught in a "practial setting" before they encounter the complicating factor resolving classroom dynamics with pure pedagogical theory. Having an internal understanding of the science allows new teachers to focus on delivery of the lesson.

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

The National Science Education Standards are the basis for Washington State standards which this course prepares pre-service teachers to meet.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

While Washington State has no specific certification for elementary educators, this course is needed to fulfill science certification and receive a middle school science endorsement.

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

A great part of the success of this course arises from its design as part of a systematic curricular revision. Such a broad revision resolves many of the content and pedagogical clashes that can result when individual instructors develop and modify courses in isolation of the thought processes of their teaching peers. With eveyone on the same page, the number of content gaps, clashes of style and unintended overlap can be minimized.

To achieve this scale of revision, however, requires overcoming the significant challenge of obtaining funding, time and administrative support for faculty release time and materials needed to work out the new curriculum. This course results from a multi-year effort from a dozen faculty receiving significant release time.

An second challenge that results from such a large revision is the need for a shake down of the courses produced to allow for fine tuning. In this case, the opportunity to teach individual sections of elements in the matter and energy series over the summer has allowed for this fine tuning to occur.