Susan DeBari: Using Interactions between Water, Earth's Surface, and Human Activity in Geology and Everyday Thinking (GET) at Western Washington University
About this Course
An introductory geology course for pre-service teachers.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 160kB Mar14 13)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
I teach a geology course for pre-service elementary teachers that meets in 2-hour blocks three times a week with no lectures. It is constructivist by design, so that learning occurs through a series of guided activities, and focused small- and large-group discussion. Students work in groups of three at all times. It is through the student-led (but facilitated) sense-making discussions that concepts are developed. Concepts build through seven modules over the course of the quarter, so that by the end, students gain a holistic view of how energy and matter are transferred through Earth processes.
In the past, the course has focused on internally-driven processes (e.g., rock cycle, plate tectonics, convection), but has lacked emphasis on surface processes and the hydrologic cycle. This new module fills that gap. Units 1–5 in this module gave my students the opportunity to link their understanding of below-ground processes with above-ground processes, and more fully connect the rock cycle to internal and external energy sources (see especially Unit 5). Most importantly, it also allows them to think about the interconnections between people and Earth processes.
The cool thing about this module, and the course in general, is that these students, who are typically uncomfortable with science, find that they enjoy the experience of working with maps, data, and models. They feel empowered by the way that they can piece together their understanding through group work and class discussion.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsTeaching this module was a great experience. Our class had been focusing on big-picture Earth processes, such as plate tectonics and mantle convection as drivers of energy transfer inside Earth, and then transitioned to this unit, which focuses on the surface processes that more directly connect to their everyday lives. Students loved relating what they did with the stream tables to their own observations of rivers and streams (which are abundant in the Pacific Northwest!). They were also very engaged by the Google Earth unit, which, for many of them, was the first time they were able to see that the Nooksack River (which runs right through our county) is a changing system that starts in the mountains and ends at the ocean. Students were aghast at the small amount of freshwater available for humanity, as that is not an issue they think about very much here where it rains so much. The students are already pretty savvy about flood hazards, but they were surprised about what a "hundred-year flood" really means.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
My course is 10 weeks long (one quarter). It was implemented after students had completed six of the eight course modules (see side box for list of modules). This included the rock cycle, isostasy, and plate tectonics. The unit is followed by a final wrap-up activity for the course, where students map (on a large poster-sized cross section of the Earth) all the energy transfer processes that they could call upon from the course, starting with heat produced by radioactive decay of uranium atoms deep inside Earth, and with energy transferred from the Sun to a body of water.
I formatively assessed students based on their whiteboard class discussions, through informal questioning, and through the embedded assessments. I used the embedded assessment in Unit 5 as both a collaborative whiteboard activity, and then again later as an individual summative assessment question on an exam.
The embedded assessments included:
- Unit 1 summarizing question on the hydrologic cycle.
- Unit 4 homework assignment where students develop a brochure on flood hazards.
- Unit 5 summarizing question where students show their understanding of the linked nature of the hydrologic cycle, the rock cycle, plate tectonics, and associated energy diagrams.
My goals for the course were to have students understand that water is a limited resource on which humans depend. I also wanted them to understand that running water erodes and transports rock, shapes landscapes over time, and is capable of short-term flooding hazards whose affects can be characterized in advance. Based on my formative and summative assessments, students fully achieved what I had hoped for them. They also enjoyed the module and provided good critical feedback (they knew they were "testing" a new module).