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Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants


Steve Mattox

Grand Valley State University
Allendale, Michigan



GVSU is a four-year public institution located 12 miles west of Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city. Enrollment is about 20,000. The Geology Department has nine faculty, one full-time staff member, one visiting professor and two part-time adjunct faculty. The department offers an (elementary) Group Science major, a (secondary) Earth Science (ES) major, and a B.S. in Geology. The number of students in each program is 55, 30, and 38, respectively.

1. Recruiting, mentoring and advising future teachers.
Beyond a printed brochure, we do not have a recruiting program to attract students to the ES major. We rely mainly on high quality introductory classes to attract students while they take their general education courses. A questionnaire to distribute to our ES students (seeking info on how they selected their major) might be useful. There is a noticeable difference in the mind set of ES and geology majors with the former thinking more about teaching and the latter think more about science. In my opinion the ES students need to be trained to think like scientists as well as be good teachers.

We do not have a formal mentoring program in place. Some students carry out research projects with faculty. I work with 1-2 students per year on specific projects and establish a mentoring relationship that carries through to graduation and beyond.

Students are advised as they progress through their degree requirements.

2. The role of introductory courses in teacher preparation.
All of our ES and Geology majors take physical geology which is also a general education lab course. Nearly all sections are taught by tenured or tenured-track faculty and the goal is to provide an excellent course that attracts majors to our programs. Class size varies from 20 to 120 students. Although we all care about the quality of our teaching, modeling pedagogy methods that would be useful to future teachers is done in some, but not all, classes.

3. Research and teaching experiences for future teachers.
A new course, Earth Science in Secondary Education, has been added to the ES major. Research components have included investigating potential causes of radon anomalies in the county, the 1953 Flint tornado (127 deaths), and the 1904 flood of Grand Rapids (a 100-year flood). Students wrote event-based inquiry lessons for the latter two projects. Although most students enjoyed these projects a murmur of "I'm going into teaching. Why should we be doing research?" could often be heard.

With individual students I have developed inquiry-based lessons along a theme of Geology of Michigan. The students research topics, plan field visits, write (and rewrite) lessons, present their work at state and national science meetings, and use the materials in training sessions for in-service teachers (and in their classrooms).

One student wrote inquiry-based lessons on the volcanoes of the Philippines. We later traveled to the University of the Philippines in Baguio City where he presented his materials to in-service teachers during a week-long workshop.

As part of the new course, students are required to visit the classroom of a master earth Science teacher in the area. ES students are required to spend 25 hours in classrooms prior to applying to the School of Education. Many students returned to accrue these hours with the master teacher.

Students are all immersed in state science standards and trained to write inquiry-based lessons, commonly on challenging or locally relevant topics ("gaps" in the fossil record, interpretation of ice core data, or geologic history of Michigan).

4. Links between education and geoscience departments.
All GVSU science education faculty have Ph.D.s in their field and are housed in their respective departments. The education department has two science educators that are dedicated to their graduate program. ES students are trained in content knowledge by geology faculty (plus weather and astronomy by faculty in other departments). Earth Science in Secondary Education helps to bridge the gap between content knowledge and pedagogy. That said, many students comment that their education courses are not relevant to science or that their placements are with teachers weak in science and poorly trained in pedagogy.

Communication between the two departments is good. Representatives from each department meet each semester to discuss common concerns.
At present, ES students are observed by biology faculty during their student teaching.

The Education Department has a Title II grant that places an ES faculty with ES teachers in a poorly performing middle school in urban Grand Rapids.

5. Supporting alumni in the teaching profession.
No formal program is in place to support alumni. We have discussed a email list to share ideas and resources but no action has been taken.
In Michigan, new in-service teachers are required to take an additional 18 hours of credits in the three years following graduation. Most ES teachers do not want additional education courses. We have developed two new graduate courses (Weather and Climate and Earth Science by Inquiry) specifically for ES teachers. We are also offering summer field trips designed with in-service teachers in mind. This has helped establish a network of ES teachers.

We support one outstanding alumni by developing and providing an AP geology exam to his high school earth science students. About two-thirds of the students pass the exam.

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