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Unit 3: Discovering Curricular Resources and Teaching Interdisciplinary Lessons that Incorporate the Methods of Geoscience

Initial Publication Date: September 18, 2014 | Reviewed: July 17, 2017


This unit provides pre-service teachers in methods courses with resources for teaching geoscience content and utilizing the methods of geoscience. Pre-service teachers will prepare an annotated bibliography of instructional resources in the areas of geology, meteorology/climatology, oceanography, and astronomy. They will select one of these resources and prepare a full lesson plan based on the resource that emphasizes the methods of geoscience and also incorporates interdisciplinary material from either biology, chemistry, physics, or the social sciences.

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Learning Goals

By the end of this unit, pre-service teachers will be able to:
  • Navigate the structure and content of their state's curriculum for Earth sciences, the Earth Science Literacy Principles, or the Earth and Space Science section of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
  • Locate curricular resources for teaching geoscience concepts.
  • Evaluate curricular resources for geoscience content and geoscience thinking.
  • Prepare an interdisciplinary lesson plan that links geoscience thinking and content with subject matter from one or more allied sciences or social sciences to address the societal impacts of Earth processes.

Context for Use

This is the culminating unit of a module designed for pre-service secondary science teachers in a secondary science teaching methods course. Units 1 and 2 should be completed prior to this activity.

Most methods courses are not taught by geoscientists, and many of the pre-service teachers in these classes have little formal background in geoscience. These classes usually have fewer than twenty students. Unit 3 Activity 1 will take approximately two hours, which could be in class or outside of class. Unit 3 Activity 2 can be done outside of class time. The homework (reading and writing) in Unit 3 is substantial. This unit could be adapted for use in an online setting. However, extensive instructor feedback on student work would be required. For this reason, face to face discussions with students are preferred.

Description and Teaching Materials

Student page for this activity

Introduction: The "Geoscientific Method"

Instructors of pre-service teachers should emphasize that after completing the first two units in this module, their students should be aware that drawing conclusions in the geosciences is somewhat different than in the traditional "experimental" sciences and that this methodological difference is necessary because the geosciences deal with questions about the Earth and other planets that are inherently complex and commonly of spatial and temporal scales that are difficult to comprehend. Therefore, the "classic" scientific method—in which rigidly controlled experiments manipulate one variable at a time—cannot be applied readily. Instructors may wish to gain greater familiarity with Geoscientific Thinking prior to Unit 1 in this module and should summarize the similarities and differences between the methods that geoscientists employ and those of the "classic" scientific method.

Pre-service teachers should be conversant with the methods of geoscience summarized by Kim A. Kastens and Ann Rivet from Unit 1. These include

  • laboratory experiments
  • observation of change over time
  • using modern analogs (comparison of ancient features—products of processes—with modern features for which the process of formation is observable)
  • observations of variation across space
  • use of physical models
  • use of computer models

Instructors may wish to augment this list with the following from Manduca and Kastens (2012) (Acrobat (PDF) 118kB May22 13)

  • use of multiple, converging lines of evidence
  • testing hypotheses through prediction and additional observation
  • systems thinking

Owing to the temporal dimension of geoscience phenomena, time plays a greater role in geoscience than in other disciplines. It may help students in understanding the temporal dimension of geoscience by having them think of the geoscientific method as forensic science on a grand scale. Geoscientists reconstruct events and processes from the physical evidence of those events and processes (Ebert 2012; Murray 2004).

Unit 3, Activity 1: Discovering Curricular Resources

Instructors introduce pre-service teachers to the rich array of curricular resources that address geoscientific methods and content by highlighting several of the resources listed below. At least one of the highlighted sites should be from the Science Education Resource Center (SERC).

Following this introduction, pre-service teachers will identify at least three instructional resources that address geoscience concepts in each of the areas of geology, meteorology/climatology, oceanography, and astronomy (minimum total of twelve resources). At least one resource in each topic area must be from the SERC site. Methods faculty may wish to discuss ways to determine valid, unbiassed web resources with their pre-service teachers. Once these resources have been identified, the pre-service teachers will prepare an annotated bibliography for all twelve resources. Annotated bibliographies are assessed with the Rubric for Unit 3 Activity 1: Annotated Bibliography of Instructional Resources (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 119kB Aug27 14). Methods instructors may also wish to discuss various formats for references (e.g., APA, ACS, etc.) and inform the pre-service teachers of the preferred format for their institution.

Unit 3, Activity 2: Preparing an Interdisciplinary Lesson Plan that Uses the Methods of Geoscience

To cement their understanding of the methods of geoscience, pre-service teachers are given the assignment of constructing an interdisciplinary lesson plan. They will select one of the instructional resources that they evaluated in Unit 3 Activity 1 and prepare an interdisciplinary lesson plan (including any student materials) that addresses at least one of the big ideas or supporting concepts from either the state's curriculum for Earth science or from the Earth Science Literacy Principles (ESLI 2010) or the Next Generation Science Standards and at least one big idea or supporting concept from either biology, chemistry, or physics. Ideally, the lesson plans developed by pre-service teachers should also address the societal impacts of the topic. Linking differing disciplines will assist pre-service teachers in developing systems thinking. Lesson plans will be evaluated with the Rubric for Unit 3 Activity 2: Lesson Plan and Student Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB Sep15 14).

Lesson plans should follow a standard format such as the 5E (BSCS 1989) or 7E (Eisenkraft 2003) models or any other format recommended by the methods professor. The following are essential components of the interdisciplinary lesson plan:

  1. A title or name/description of the lesson.
  2. A statement of the Standard, Key Idea and Specific Understanding from your state's curriculum or the Big Idea(s) and Supporting Concept(s) from the Earth Science Literacy Principles or the Next Generation Science Standards and at least one big idea or supporting concept from an allied science that will be addressed.
  3. A complete reference for the original source or inspiration for the lesson.
  4. An outline of the lesson Note: Standard types of lesson plans (e.g., 5E or 7E) are preferred.
  5. A description of which methods of geoscience the students will use in completing the lesson.
  6. An explicit statement of how the lesson is interdisciplinary and addresses societal concerns.
  7. A list of what level or levels or Bloom's Taxonomy is/are accessed.
  8. A description of how student understanding will be assessed (e.g., rubric) (How will you know that the students learned what you wanted them to learn?).
  9. A handout or instructions that the students will receive.
  10. If specific questions are asked in the student handout, a list of appropriate answers must be included in the lesson plan.
  11. A list of equipment/materials needed for the lesson, including quantities of each.
  12. An estimate of the preparation time required for the lesson (including gathering of materials).
  13. A discussion of any safety issues that must be considered when students are engaged in the activity.

Concluding the Module

Interdisciplinary lessons that include geoscientific thinking and content are rich venues for exploring societal issues. Science educators who teach methods classes should give examples of how lessons can be linked to societal issues when they return graded lesson plans to the pre-service teachers. These examples may be instructor-provided or generated in a class discussion. Instructors should emphasize to pre-service teachers that societal issues can provide powerful means for engaging their students in the subject matter. Examples of such critical needs are provided by the American Geosciences Institute.

The arc of this module scaffolds the learning of pre-service teachers by first introducing the methods of geoscience, giving students experience with utilizing these methods and then applying their knowledge in the development of the interdisciplinary lesson plan. Instructor comments regarding societal relevance and critical needs at the end of the module provide a broader context for the content prepared by the pre-service teachers.


A multitude of data-driven geoscience investigations are available for use in teaching geoscientific concepts. These provide excellent experience with using various methods of geoscience. Many of these are available through the web and some are accompanied by supplementary materials to help pre-service teachers in implementing investigations in their classes. The following is a list of selected resources that may be of use to pre-service teachers in this assignment and in their careers as a science teachers.

  • SERC – Science Education Research Center
  • SERC K-12 Science portal
  • SERC Starting Point
  • Email lists for science teachers (especially ESPRIT and 5-8 Science)
  • Websites of Earth Science Teachers
  • Resources for GeoScience Education
  • DLESE – Digital Library of Earth System Education
  • CLEAN -- Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network
  • NAGT – National Association of Geoscience Teachers (Including the Journal of Geoscience Education)
  • NESTA – National Earth Science Teachers Association (Including the journal The Earth Scientist)
  • GSA – Geological Society of America ( This site may be offline. )
  • GSA Education and Teacher Resources ( This site may be offline. )
  • AGU - American Geophysical Union Teachers' page
  • NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • USGS – United States Geological Survey (more info)
  • Earth2Class – Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (more info)
  • Mark Francek's Resources for Earth Science & Geography Instruction
  • The Weather Channel
  • NSTA – National Science Teachers Association (especially the journal The Science Teacher and the NSTA book series Stop Faking It) (more info)
  • American Meteorological Society
  • Earth Science Picture of the Day (more info)
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • Teaching Notes and Tips

    Pre-service teachers get very excited when they discover the abundance and richness of curricular resources available for geoscience instruction. The classroom may get quite noisy during this exploration phase. Students should be instructed to construct their annotated bibliography in pieces as they discover individual resources. Activity 1 of Unit 3 typically takes approximately one to one and a half hours. Pre-service teachers are quite capable of completing Activity 1 outside of class time if class time is limited.

    Activity 2, the construction of the lesson plan, is best done by individual students outside of class time. Depending upon the students' level of experience with construction of lesson plans, this portion of Unit 3 may take up to several hours.

    The summary discussion in which the instructor addresses societal relevance with the class is a critical component of this module. A minimum of 30 minutes should be allotted to the discussion, though it could last longer. The discussion may also serve as a set of guidelines if the pre-service teachers are required to modify and resubmit their lesson plans.


    The learning goals for the assignments in Unit 3 are assessed through the use of the following rubrics:

    References and Resources

    BSCS and IBM. 1989. New Designs for Elementary School Science and Health: A Cooperative Project between Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) and International Business Machines (IBM). Dubuque, IA, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company ISBN 13: 9780840353399; ISBN 10: 0840353391

    Earth Science Literacy Initiative, 2010, Earth Science Literacy Principles

    Ebert, J.R. 2012. "Lithic Literacy and the 'Forensic' Methods of Geoscience."

    Eisenkraft, A. 2003. "Expanding the 5E Model." The Science Teacher, v. 70, n. 6, 56–59. (Also available from NSTA)

    Kastens, K. and A. Rivet. "Multiple Modes of Inquiry in Earth Science: Helping Students Understand the Scientific Process Beyond Laboratory Experimentation." The Science Teacher, January 2008, 26–31.

    Manduca, C. and K. Kastens. 2012. Geoscience and Geoscientists: Uniquely Equipped to Study the Earth (Acrobat (PDF) 118kB May22 13), Geologic Society of America Special Paper 486, 1-12.

    Murray, R. C. 2004. Evidence from the Earth. Mountain Press, Missoula, MT, 226p.

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    These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
    Explore the Collection »