Inquiry into Earth and Space Science

Kyle Gray, Earth Science, University of Northern Iowa


Inquiry into Earth and Space Science is a semester-long content course developed for pre-service elementary teachers that uses inquiry learning to teach concepts related to rocks, minerals, groundwater, stream flow, weather, climate, maps, and astronomy.

Course Type: Intro Level:Astronomy Earth Science
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lab only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This a a required course for a students with a declared early childhood or elementary education major and satisfies the university's general education requirements for physical science. Students from other majors may not take this course. Students are predominately freshmen or sophomore women who have not taken any other required science content course. They are typically science phobic and have not taken an Earth Science course since middle school.

Course Content:

This course covers topics in Geology, Oceanography, Meteorology, and Astronomy. The content within each topic is aligned with state Earth and Space Science standards for K-6 classes with additional material from the 7-12 standards. A follow-up course (Investigations into Earth and Space Science) covers the remainder of the K-12 Earth and Space Science standards.
Currently, students do not conduct any formal field experiences during class time, however they are required to complete four inquiry experiences. These outside activities include finding signs of weathering in a graveyard or observing meanders forming in a recently channelized stream.

Course Goals:

For teaching the methods of geoscience, students in my Inquiry into Earth and Space Science course will be able to make observations of the world around them and use the data drawn from those observations to draw logical conclusions or inferences. Students will also demonstrate an understanding that science does not follow a single, experiment-driven methodology conducted by white males with goofy hair and wearing white lab coats.

Course Features:

The nature and methods of geoscience inquiry is addressed multiple times throughout the semester. In week one we explore common misconceptions of science by using the model provided by UC Berkely (, a draw-a-scientist activity, and a discussion of what a geoscientist looks like. Throughout the term, students must make observations of target phenomena and use those data to draw inferences and conclusions. Examples of this second type include using stream gauge data to calculate the size of a 100-year flood, observing sediments on a stream table, and observing different types of soils.

Course Philosophy:

This course meets for two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays and one hour on Fridays. Lecture is kept to a minimum with most of the time spent on learning activities. This constructivist approach models the types of teaching that we wish to instill in our graduates by demonstrating a different way of teaching.


Students are assessed throughout the term in a variety of ways. Formal exams containing conceptually-based short answer and multiple choice questions provide feedback on content knowledge. Student reflection papers provide evidence of attitudinal change over the length of the course. In class activities and homework provide formative feedback and short-term projects provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their skills in using the concepts covered in class.


Syllabus for Inquiry into Earth Science (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 602kB May9 12)

References and Notes:

The Good Earth - 2nd edition by McConnell, Steer, Knight, & Owens
Occasional readings from newspaper or magazine articles based on current events. For example, this Spring they read an article describing and debunking the hysteria over the Dec 21, 2012 and the end of the world.