Page prepared for SERC by Dr. Barry Bickmore of Brigham Young University.

Earth Science for Elementary Education Majors

Barry Bickmore

Brigham Young University

Course Type:
Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Summary

This is the second part of a 2-semester sequence on the physical sciences required for Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education majors. The first course in the sequence covers principles of chemistry and physics, while this course addresses principles of Earth science.

For Dr. Bickmore's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth Science for Elementary Majors: Role in the Program

Course Context:

This is a large introductory Earth science course with no prerequisites. It satisfies a general education requirement and a requirement specific to the El. Ed. and Early Childhood Ed. majors. Almost all of the students are preservice elementary or pre-school teachers. The students (about 140 every semester) meet together twice per week for 1 hr. lecture periods, and in sections of 10-25 students twice per week for 1 hr. lab sessions.

Course Goals:

  1. Students should be able to explain and apply basic principles of earth systems science, corresponding with state and national standards for elementary school earth science education.
  2. Students should show that they can verbalize earth science concepts at an elementary school level.
  3. Students should be able to identify common rocks and minerals, and understand their genesis.
  4. Students should be able to prepare and present various demonstrations or teaching aids that reinforce concepts learned in class, and that will be useful in an elementary school classroom setting.
  5. Students will begin to make a difference right now for elementary science education.
  6. Students should learn the nature of science, and how to think clearly and critically about science-religion conflicts.
  7. Students should come out of the class with an improved attitude toward science.

Course Content:

This course focuses on geologic processes and meteorology, especially those areas that receive the most attention in the Utah Core Curriculum. The content is discussed in the lecture periods and hands-on experiences are built into the lab. In addition, the students prepare 5-minute "mini-lessons" on physical science principles in the Utah Core Curriculum, practice and critique them in the lab, and then present them to the students at a local Title I elementary school. My students are not "science people," and this activity helps them to see the relevance of the course content to their future plans. In addition, it is the first real experience teaching in an elementary school for many of them.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 41kB Apr16 07)

For an example activity from this course, see Science as Storytelling for Teaching the Nature of Science


  • Tests include questions that require application of principles learned, as well as concept mapping exercises that require the ability to explain connections between the principles. The level of success at these tasks varies widely among students in the class.
  • Lab activities require students to explain earth science concepts. Most of the students are fairly good at this, as long as they can get the concepts straight in their heads.
  • The lab also includes a rock and mineral identification final. Almost all of the students do very well at this if they put in some practice time outside of class.
  • The mini-lesson activity requires students to teach science concepts in a setting where it really matters. The students really put a lot of effort into this, and they have usually been very successful.
  • Surveys and test questions are given to assess student understanding of the nature of science, and in-class essays are assigned where the students are asked to express their thoughts about science-religion issues. They show significant gains in their understanding of the nature of science and begin to express much more sophisticated and nuanced views about science-religion issues.
  • Surveys for measuring attitudes toward science are given before and after the semester. The students (especially the ones who initially had very poor attitudes toward science) show significant gains by the end of the semester.

References and Notes:

Textbook: Fundamentals of Earth Science, by Lutgens and Tarbuck.