Page prepared for SERC by Ann Bykerk-Kauffman of California State University - Chico.

Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences

Ann Bykerk-Kauffman

California State University, Chico

Course Type:
Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Summary

Catalog Description: Fundamental concepts in (1) the solar system and the universe, (2) the structure and composition of the solid Earth, and (3) Earth's atmosphere and water. Intended for Liberal Studies majors and students pursuing a single subject teaching credential in science. 1.0 hours lecture, 4.0 hours activity.

For Dr. Bykerk-Kauffman's reflections on the course and its design, see Concepts in Earth and Space Science: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This is an upper-division required course for students majoring in Liberal Studies (the standard track for CSUC students pursuing a K-8 multiple-subject teaching credential). A lower-division Liberal Studies course, "Concepts in Physical Science," serves as the prerequisite. In addition to the Liberal Studies majors, a sprinkling of biology majors take "Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences" in order to satisfy the breadth requirement for obtaining a single-subject (secondary education) teaching credential.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to formulate basic fundamental concepts and synthesize them into satisfactory explanations for various natural phenomena. For example, students should be able to synthesize concepts of density, buoyancy and thermal expansion into an explanation of convection.

Student should be able to apply their general understanding of natural phenomena in order to explain specific events. For example, student should be able to apply their understanding of how clouds form in order to explain why clouds form on the windward side of a mountain range.

Students should be able to integrate direct scientific observations, graphical representations of data, and prior knowledge into a new conceptual explanation. For example, students should be able to explain how and why the maximum altitude of the moon varies by phase and season, based on their integration of (1) their observations of the phase and altitude of the moon in the sky, (2) graphs of the # of hours the moon is above the horizon each day, and (3) their understanding of the causes of the seasons and the phases of the moon.

Skill Goals

Designing, facilitating, and documenting guided-discovery science lessons
Gleaning pertinent information out of textbooks
Visualizing in three dimensions
Constructing and interpreting graphs
Preparing visuals for and delivering presentations
Writing clear, complete and logically-organized explanations
Working productively in groups

Attitudinal Goals

Increasing students' enjoyment of science and decreasing their fear of it.
Developing students' confidence in their ability to take on challenging tasks and successfully complete them.
Improving students' sense of connection to and awareness of the natural world.

Course Content:

This course covers fundamental concepts of geology, astronomy and meteorology. The inherent simplicity that underlies the complexity of these three topics is revealed in this course by five recurrent themes: models, flow of energy and matter, apparent motion, changes of state, and convection. All labs are guided-discovery and hands-on. The geology portion of the course is capped by a three -hour field trip. A semester-long project on the moon involves students in (1) scientific research: systematic observation, interpretation of data, model-construction, and (2) curriculum development: designing, teaching, and writing a teachers guide for a guided-discovery hands-on science lesson.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 106kB Apr19 07)
Course Packet ( 5.5MB Apr19 07)

For an example activity from this course, see Density, Buoyancy and Convection.


Students take a pre-test which is repeated as a post-test. It includes (1) open-ended essay questions, (1) a large number of machine-scored multiple-choice questions from the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory (Lindell and Olsen, 2002) and the Geoscience Concept Inventory (Libarkin and Anderson, 2005) and (3) several multiple-choice questions about students' attitudes toward science in general and Earth Science in particular.

In addition, students write two pages of "Concluding Comments" describing the most important thing they learned in the course and how they learned it.

References and Notes:

Libarkin, J.C., and Anderson, S.W., 2005. Assessment of Learning in Entry-Level Geoscience Courses: Results from the Geoscience Concept Inventory; Journal of Geoscience Education; v. 53. p. 394-401.

Lindell, R. and Olsen, J.P., 2002, Developing the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory, Proceedings of the 2002 Physics Education Research Conference, ed. by S. Franklin, J. Marx and K. Cummings. PERC Publishing, NY.

Textbook: Earth Science by E.J. Tarbuck and F.K. Lutgens: Pearson Prentice Hall.