Support Future Teachers in Learning about Earth

As of 2002, 83% of practicing elementary school teachers had taken at least one semester-long course in Earth science; 54% had only one course (Fulp, 2002). Perhaps surprisingly, many secondary teachers who teach Earth science also have a relatively limited background in Earth science: 29% of secondary Earth science teachers have only had 1-2 semester-long courses in Earth science (Weiss, 2002).

For the vast majority of these, the single Earth science course they take is an introductory geoscience course that counts (typically) as a general education requirement. Our introductory and general education courses may therefore be the only opportunity that future teachers have to learn about Earth.

Design your Course to Support Future Teachers

Learn more about expert ways
of thinking about Earth »
Teachers need both content knowledge and teaching knowledge and skills (pedagogical knowledge). But the pedagogy, or teaching methods, can vary based on the discipline and content. As a result, pedagogical content knowledge, or teaching methods that are tailored to a specific discipline, is another important component of successful teaching. There are several ways to think about how you can support the development of pedagogical content knowledge in your courses:

Offer a special discussion and/or lab section

In a large introductory course, you may have enough students to warrant creating a special discussion or lab group for students majoring in education. During discussion or lab periods, work with the students to help them transfer what they've learned to their future classroom, and help them practice the methods specific to the geosciences. Kyle Gray at the University of Northern Iowa has written an essay on teaching geoscience methods to preservice teachers that offers excellent advice.

Develop an introductory course specifically for pre-service teachers

Focus the course content on what is covered by the relevant standards. Try to limit the course size to 20-30 students and make use of the same investigative, inquiry-based, and group-learning techniques that they will use in their own classrooms in the future.

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Provenance: Molly Kent, Carleton College
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By adding activities to your course, you will allow your students to experience the active, inquiry-based, group-learning techniques that they will later use in their classrooms. Below are activities that have explicit ties to the Next Generation Science Standards and have been tested in classrooms with future teachers:
Grand Valley State University (Part of the set of InTeGrate Implementation Programs)

Faculty in the Grand Valley State Implementation Program designed a new program and two new methods courses to prepare secondary science teachers, all focused on integrating science content with teaching methodology. A key aspect of their work was collaborating with faculty at nearby two-year colleges.

Washington State (Part of the set of InTeGrate Implementation Programs)

Twelve representatives from a consortium of Washington State institutes of higher education (IHEs) in partnership with Washington's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and other key stakeholders proposed a pathway to improving science learning and Earth literacy for all Washington State students by creating a shared vision of STEM teacher preparation in Washington State aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and utilizing InTeGrate guiding principles and strategies.

Mercer University (Part of the set of InTeGrate Implementation Programs)

Mercer University aims to increase the number of K-8 teachers in Georgia who incorporate Earth literacy in their classrooms by incorporating examples of regional environmental sites into InTeGrate assignments in order to link their lives more directly to sustainability issues.

Additional Resources