Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences: Role in the Program

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

A discussion of the design and implementation of an earth and space science content course serving pre-service teachers at California State University - Chico, created by Ann Bykerk-Kauffman.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

Most students at CSU Chico who are preparing for a career in elementary school teaching choose to major in Liberal Studies, a program specifically designed for this group. Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences is a required upper-division course in the Liberal Studies major. Although this course is not a "science methods" course, it does serve as a model of how science can by taught by hands-on inquiry and guided discovery. After completing this course, during the fifth "credential year," students take a separate science methods course.

The main role of this course is to provide future teachers with a basic background content knowledge in the earth and space sciences. This course is almost the only exposure that these students have to the Earth sciences; another required course in the Liberal Studies major (Internship in Science Teaching) involves the students in planning and facilitating hands-on science lessons for local elementary school children. Some of these hands-on science lessons cover earth and space science topics.

Biology majors who plan to teach secondary school science are also required to take this course along with Physical Geology. Geoscience majors who plan to teach secondary school science enroll in a special course in which they act as teaching aids in the lab sessions, conduct review sessions before exams and serve as tutors for the students. To ensure adequate preparation, they are also required to complete all of the homework assignments and exams for the course.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences covers the basic essential underlying concepts in the earth and space sciences. Special attention is paid to concepts about which students commonly have major misconceptions. Misconception-prone concepts include convection, origin of magma, growth of crystals, metamorphism, seasons, phases and eclipses of the moon, the celestial sphere, the greenhouse effect, and cloud composition and formation.

All labs are hands-on, inquiry-based and guided-discovery. As possible, concepts are covered in lecture after they have been thoroughly explored in lab.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

At the end of each lab activity, students present part of the results of their work to the rest of the class and so have a chance to teach concepts in a lecture format. The semester-long moon project culminates in the detailed planning for, teaching of and reflection on a hands-on inquiry-based guided-discovery lesson that covers a particular aspect of the moon. The final product of this project is a teacher's guide, similar to the GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) materials published by the Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science.

How does the Course Transition Pre-service Teachers into the Classroom?

At this time, this course does not involve students in any direct experiences in K-12 classrooms or with K-12 students.

How is the Course Content Aligned with the National Science Education Standards?

This course embodies much of the philosophy of science teaching as described in the National Science Education Standards. Almost all of the earth science concepts described in those standards are covered, at least to some degree.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

This course prepares students to pass the science subject matter test required for admission into a multiple subject (K-8) teaching credential program. It also serves as one course in a suite of courses that biology students can complete in lieu of taking the science subject matter test for admission into a secondary teaching credential program in "science with a concentration in biology."

What Challenges have been Encountered in Teaching this Course? How have they been Resolved?

In 1996, this course was radically redesigned and it began its gradual evolution into its current form. During the first couple of years, students resisted the changes. One complaint was that we "never explained anything." In order to meet students' needs for clear organized explanations of concepts, we had been assigning specific passages of the textbook for students to read after they had explored related topics in lab. But we found that students either did not read those passages or did not read them actively enough to comprehend them. To help students work their way through the textbook more actively, I wrote homework assignments that asked students specific questions about particular passages in textbook. Once those homework assignments were instituted, all complaints about a lack of explanations disappeared.