Field-oriented learning for earth science teachers

submitted by

Tim Lutz West Chester University
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013
In-service teachers learn about environmental geology and how to teach earth science using outdoor activities and resources near their schools.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 6.9MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

Students learn about resource, pollution, and hazard issues in the context of the hydrologic cycle.

Geologic Skills:
Contour maps and topography, steady-state system models, stream gaging, area measurement

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Critique outdoor activities; develop a philosophy of using outdoor inquiry in teaching.

Other Skills:
Learn to use online USGS hydrologic data; Excel.


Instructional Level:
Students are graduate students in an M.A. Physical Science program taking a course in Environmental Geology. They do not all have strong backgrounds in geology.

Skills Needed:
Good writing and observation skills are helpful

Role of Activity in a Course:
Field experiences are integrated throughout a five-week summer course.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
No specialized tools needed.

Logistical Challenges:
Providing enough time for extended outdoor activities and transportation when required.


Evaluation Goals:
I would like to know how effective this course is in engaging teachers in using outdoor teaching. Student comments and anecdotal reports indicate that they value the opportunity to learn about field activities but the practicalities of teaching in some school systems maybe a hindrance.

Evaluation Techniques:
Assignments related to each activity, a final portfolio, and a reflective essay are used to assess learning.


Teaching Environmental Geology (ESS536) is a core course for students in the Master of Arts in Physical Science program at West Chester University. The students are typically in-service middle- or high-school teachers, and the main objective of the course is to "provide resources and strategies for teachers." However, the students' prior exposure to geology and earth science varies: some students have little background. Thus, they must learn the basics of environmental geology as well as considering how they can best teach the subject. Within the broad field of environmental geology the course focuses on subjects related to the hydrologic cycle, which offer multiple opportunities to develop interdisciplinary connections and real-life applications, which are features of the M.A. program. These subjects also offer multiple connections to PA's academic standards for science and environment education.

On-campus field experiences and longer field trips provide opportunities for the teachers to learn by actively engaging in inquiry and by practicing process and problem-solving skills; simultaneously they develop the practical experience and knowledge that will allow them to transplant the activities to their own schools. The course is taught in ten 4.5-hour periods during a five-week summer session to provide sufficient time, daylight, and warm weather. The students see the campus as a microcosm in which the hydrologic cycle, watersheds and streams, erosion and deposition, and storm-water management can be studied. Through on-campus activities they become familiar with methods, materials, and logistics, and immediately begin to envision how it might be done at their school. Longer field trips may visit water and sewage treatment facilities, a USGS gaging station, a dam and reservoir, and a landfill. Each activity results in a report which contains two main parts. In the first, the students are asked to reflect on the activity as learners; in the second they reflect on what they have learned as teachers.