Teaching the Geology of the Pacific Northwest

Anne Egger, Geological Sciences, Central Washington University


This course is for Earth science teaching majors, general science teaching majors, and anyone who is interested in both the geology of the Pacific Northwest and how to teach. We explore broad themes in Earth science teaching through specific examples in Pacific Northwest geology; the students' job is to move those ideas into your classroom. Includes a teaching practicum in the local high school.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an upper level course for students majoring in secondary science teaching. This includes students majoring in Earth science teaching who may have had several courses in geology as well as physics, chemistry, and biology teaching majors who may have had very little. Most have had one or two methods classes in teaching, and most have done practica in classrooms.

Course Content:

The course comprises four sections: working with Earth science data, teaching in the field, learning from rocks, and regional geology. Each section uses examples in the Pacific northwest as an illustration. We explore earthquakes and volcanoes in the Pacific northwest through using online datasets, develop a field trip to a local site, learn about how to teach with rocks by discussing the Columbia River basalts and the ice age flood deposits, and develop a regional geologic history by exploring the provinces within the Pacific northwest.

Course Goals:

My primary goal for this course is to empower students to teach Earth science by giving them the opportunity to
  • focus on developing their own Earth science knowledge and skills, particularly within the context of understanding the geology of the Pacific Northwest;
  • reflect on their own understanding of the nature and process of Earth science, and how that differs from other scientific disciplines;
  • practice methods of teaching and learning Earth science; and
  • work collaboratively with peers to improve their science teaching.

I hope to achieve these broad goals through the following more specific learning outcomes in content, skills, and pedagogy.

Pacific northwest geology learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Explain the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes in the Pacific northwest
  • Describe the plate tectonic setting of the Pacific northwest
  • Explain the depositional environment of the formations that make up Craig's Hill (a local feature)
  • Describe the geologic history of the region based on field data
  • Describe the evidence for the Yellowstone plume and the origin and distribution of the Columbia River Basalts
  • Describe the evidence for and the history of the Missoula floods
  • Explain the geologic significance and history of a province in the Pacific northwest
  • Describe the geologic provinces of the Pacific northwest

Geoscience skills learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Navigate online resources for accessing real-time and historical data
  • Use relative age techniques to develop a geologic history
  • Collect and interpret data in the field
  • Read and summarize the scientific literature
  • Describe and analyze rocks, erosional features, and sedimentary deposits and interpret their origin
  • Utilize the primary literature to find recent scientific studies about the region
  • Use multiple lines of evidence to support your understanding of a geologic history

Pedagogy learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Develop a lesson plan for use in a high school classroom using computer-based data
  • Develop and teach a lesson plan centered on a field trip
  • Describe ways to incorporate the rock record into teaching.
  • Develop a graphics- and data-rich oral presentation about a region.

Course Features:

There are three significant projects in this course:
  1. A practicum in the local high school, where the students develop and teach a geology field trip for the 9th-grade integrated science courses;
  2. An extensive lesson plan that students write (but do not teach) that must include using real geoscience data and is connected to science standards;
  3. A presentation about a province within the Pacific northwest that includes a reading for their peers, an oral presentation, and leading a discussion.

Course Philosophy:

The overarching philosophy of this course is that students need to get experience teaching Earth science content prior to getting a job teaching secondary science. The practicum is a critical component of the course that allows students to combine their knowledge of pedagogy with their content knowledge and discover where the gaps are. The gaps are often considerable. This experience is a tremendous motivator for future learning, even within the same quarter. In addition, I seek to give the students tools that will continue to be useful to them beyond the course, so that includes membership in the National Science Teachers Association (and thus access to online journals and discounts on publications) and an introduction to free, online resources.


The major projects are all assessed with rubrics. In addition, students have approximately weekly readings, and they answer q short set of questions about these online.


The attached syllabus does not exactly reflect how the class happened, but is a fairly good guide.

Syllabus for Teaching the Geology of the PNW (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 163kB Jun26 12)

References and Notes:

Kastens, K., and Turrin, M., 2010, Earth Science Puzzles: Making Meaning From Data , Arlington, VA, NSTA Press, 186 p.

Kastens, K. A., and Rivet, A., 2008, Multiple Modes of Inquiry in Earth Science : The Science Teacher, v. 75, no. 1, p. 26-31.

Orion, N., 1993, A Model for the Development and Implementation of Field Trips as an Integral Part of the Science Curriculum : School Science and Mathematics, v. 93, no. 6, p. 325-331.