Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants
Susan M. DeBari
Western Washington University
K-12 Geoscience Teacher training at Western Washington University
The Science, Math, and Technology Education (SMATE) Program at Western Washington University offers a high quality teacher-training program for pre- and in-service K-12 teachers. The Geology Department plays an integral role in this program, as do all the other science departments. Two faculty members from each of the science departments have split appointments with the Program, as well as representatives from math and engineering technology. In geology, these are Susan DeBari and Scott Linneman. The SMATE program is engaged in the reform of undergraduate courses in the respective disciplines as well as in education. Building on their research expertise, the faculty works as a multidisciplinary team while exploring how to provide the best training and support for future teachers. The program is housed in the Science, Math, and Technology Education Building, a state-of-the-art facility with wired classrooms, a Learning Resource Center (LRC) with computers and high quality curricular materials, a fabrication lab, and a storeroom stocked with teaching supplies. The LRC is open for review and checkout of materials by students as well as practicing teachers in the local community (often alumni of Western's teaching program).
Susan DeBari and Scott Linneman are the geology education faculty that act as academic advisors and mentors for future teachers in Earth Science. The pre-service teachers consist of undergraduates, post-baccalaureate students, and Masters in Teaching candidates. In Washington State, a future science teacher gets a certification to teach in secondary school, and an endorsement to teach a particular science. To teach geology, one must have an Earth Science endorsement or an Earth Science/General Science endorsement. The state requirements for these two endorsements (along with the Western courses that satisfy the requirements).
Recruiting for undergraduate students is typically done within the geology department and at nearby community colleges. Once they are at Western, they are mentored and advised by the two geology education faculty and choose one of three majors designed specifically for future teachers. These are B. A. in Education, Earth Science - Elementary; B.A. in Education, Earth Science - Secondary; and B.A. in Education, Earth Science/General Science - Secondary. This latter one means that a student is endorsed to teach any secondary science, but with an emphasis on Earth Science. They are also mentored and advised by faculty from the Woodring College of Education (it is a dual college program).
Western Washington University also has a post-baccalaureate and a Masters in Teaching program for people with Bachelor's Degrees who want get teacher certification. We recruit candidates from Western's pool of geology graduates, graduates of the other Washington universities, and those who are making mid-life career changes. They are also advised and mentored by the geology education faculty.
The role of introductory courses in teacher preparation
In the geology department at Western, there are two introductory courses in geology. One (Geology 101) is for non-science majors (including future elementary teachers), and the other (Geology 211) is for science majors and future science teachers. The biology, chemistry, and physics departments also have this same split (100 level vs. 200 level). For Earth Science pre-service teachers, two quarters of the lower-level introductory physics (non-calculus based) is required, two quarters of the upper level introductory chemistry, and the 200 level geology sequence (physical and historical). The same is true for Earth Science/General Science majors, except that a year each of introductory Physics (100 level), Biology (200 level), and Chemistry (200 level) is required. Thus, other than physics, pre-service science teachers are taking the same introductory science classes that the science majors are taking. At the present time, there are no introductory courses geared specifically for teachers, but this is expected to change in the next few years.
Research and teaching experiences for future teachers
Teaching experiences: both the elementary and secondary education programs have a wealth of teaching experiences as part of the major. All future elementary teachers must take a science methods course taught by SMATE faculty that is followed up by a quarter-long teaching practicum in science in a local elementary school. Secondary education majors have a short teaching practicum during their coursework, and then spend 26 weeks doing their teaching internship at a local school. The SMATE faculty observe and mentor these students while they are in the schools. In the past year, half of the teaching internship placements were for students with Earth Science/General Science endorsements.
Research experiences: At the present time, a universal research experience for pre-service secondary teachers in Earth Science is limited to classes. The secondary science methods class requires students to do an interdisciplinary marine intertidal research project at a local beach, and several of the required geology classes require independent field-based research projects. However, scholarships are available for future teachers to work in a faculty member's lab as a summer intern.
For future elementary teachers, a new interdisciplinary capstone science course (The Nature of Inquiry) has just been approved by the university. This course is entirely inquiry-based, so that these future teachers will gain experience in formulating research questions, gathering and analyzing data, and presenting results.
The Washington Earth Science Initiative is a summer program that exposes teachers to inquiry learning and how it can be applied to their classrooms. These teachers then develop long-term, field-based research projects that they can do with their students throughout the school year. Constructing Physics Understanding is also a summer program that exposes teachers to inquiry-based learning.
Links between education and geoscience departments
As mentioned above, there is a strong link between the School of Education and the Geology Department at Western in that the department offers three majors specifically for future teachers. Certain courses have also been specifically targeted for future teachers. These include Oceanography and Meteorology (now required by the state for a teaching endorsement in Earth Science). Another course, Earth Materials, was designed specifically by Scott Linneman for teachers in lieu of the traditional two-quarter sequence of mineralogy and petrology.
Outreach programs, such as the Washington Earth Science Initiative mentioned above are also offered through the auspices of the Geology Department at Western, and are organized by geology science education faculty.