Investigative Science I and III

Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Geoscience, Winona State University


This is a two-semester sequence that covers science content for elementary education majors(preK-8). Investigative Science I: "Physical Science in your Environment" covers Nature of Science, Physics, and Chemistry content. Investigative Science III: "Scientific Investigation of your Environment" covers Earth, Space, and Life Science content. The course is taught in a combined lecture/lab format, with minimal lecturing and mostly hands-on, inquiry-based activities that can be translated to the students' future classrooms.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

These are the only two science content courses that are required of elementary education majors (preK-8) who do not have a middle-level (5-8) science specialty. "Physical Science in your Environment" is typically taken when the students are freshmen or sophomores. Students then take their Science Methods course and typically gain entry to the education program prior to enrolling in "Scientific Investigation of your Environment." Two sections of each course are taught each semester by faculty from the four science disciplines. The first course is taught by physics and chemistry faculty while the second course is taught by geoscience and biology faculty. There is only one faculty member per class, so a geoscientist also has to cover the required life science content and vice versa. Thus, the faculty work closely together throughout the semester outside of classtime to prepare for the content.

Course Content:

Geoscience content is covered in the second course of the sequence "Scientific Investigation of your Environment" and is taught by geoscience and biology faculty. The course includes the following Earth & Space Science content: Origin of Earth & Solar System, History of the Earth, Plate Tectonics, Rock Classification, Astronomy & Seasons, Weather, The Water Cycle, Climate and Climate Change. Life Science content is integrated within these topics. Students primarily work in groups of 3-4 through hands-on, inquiy-based activities

Course Goals:

Skill Goals – At the end of this course, students will be able to:
  • Synthesize diverse information to draw reasonable scientific conclusions and to support those conclusions with evidence and scientific reasoning
  • Solve simple mathematical problems
  • Read, interpret and make graphs and diagrams

Content Goals – At the end of this course, students will be able to:
  • Make connections between the macroscopic and microscopic worlds
  • Construct a model illustrating the interactions between geology and biology in specialized environments throughout the world.
  • Design and construct simple experiments that can be completed in an elementary classroom.

Course Features:

The goals are primarily achieved through hands-on group activities. One of the critical pieces of these courses that I think really helps our students succeed is our use of "Learning Assistants" in the classroom. Each class has a learning assistant - a more senior student who has either already suceeded in these courses or is an exceptional secondary science teaching major. These LAs assist in course prep and participate in all activities; occasionally, they will lead an activity. The LAs are volunteers who get a credit for participating and the experience that comes with being involved in this type of course.

Course Philosophy:

While I was very active in developing the current version of these courses, it is a group effort by approximately 9-10 faculty from the four science disciplines. Thus far, the College of Education has required only two science content courses for their Elementary Education majors and so we are limited to teaching the four disciplines in those two semesters. The science faculty worked together and decided to teach them in their current format to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of science. Our goals are to model good science teaching methods and strategies for our students and use inexpensive equipment that can be directly translated into their future classrooms. We want to alleviate our students' trepidation toward science and treat teachers as scientists within their own classrooms.


Students are primarily assessed through in-class group and individual assignments and also more standard, hands-on exams. Students first take an individual exam that may have a hands-on component. Then students take a group portion of the exam which is typically a lab experiment or other group activity.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes: