Page prepared for SERC by Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman.

Liberal Studies Science Experience Capstone Course

Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman
California State University Northridge

Course Type:
Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Summary

This laboratory course serves as a culminating science experience for Liberal Studies majors in the pre-credential and ITEP options. An interdisciplinary blend of biology, physics, chemistry, and earth and space sciences from lower division courses are integrated into the course as various topics are explored through the broad lens of earth science. Students practice observation, synthesis, analysis, evaluation of major concepts and data related to Earth's dynamic processes. Development and presentation of informal K-8 lesson plans give students experience planning instruction and designing learning experiences for elementary school students.

For Dr. Nagy-Shadman's reflections on the course and its design, see Liberal Studies Science Experience Capstone: Role in the Course

Course Context:

This is an upper division laboratory course that is required for, and restricted to, Liberal Studies majors in the pre-credential and ITEP options. Students should have already completed their required life, earth, and physical science lecture (plus/minus lab) courses. The course consists of one 3-hour laboratory meeting each week. Sections are limited to 32 students.

Eight to ten sections are offered each semester. Although different instructors will teach different sections of the course, there will be a course coordinator who will oversee the content and pedagogy. The coordinator will also make certain that assessment of student performance is uniformly done in each section, using such methods as common embedded assessment questions, common rubrics, common assignments, and common surveys.

Course Goals:

Students will:
  • acquire a breadth of knowledge across the range of disciplines.
  • explore how knowledge across multiple disciplines can be connected.
  • be able to think critically and creatively; will be able to write and speak clearly, coherently, and thoughtfully; and will be able to read, understand, and evaluate all forms of text.
  • be able to make subject matter comprehensible to (K-8) students.
  • be able to assess (K-8) student learning.
  • be able to plan instruction and design learning experiences for (K-8) students.
  • improve skills such as oral communication, peer-teaching, and working in groups.
  • understand the nature of science and how scientific knowledge develops.
  • gain confidence in understanding and teaching science.

Course Content:

Hands-on investigations will include topics linked to California K-8 State Science Standards such as the nature of science, astronomy and the solar system, solar energy and meteorology, the water cycle, fossils and the evolution of life, rocks and minerals, natural resources, plate tectonics and Earth's structure, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and geomorphology.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 75kB Apr16 07)
Instructors notes (Microsoft Word 7.4MB Apr16 07) (includes sample exams, syllabus, activities)

For an example activity from this course, see Ordeal by Check: An introductory activity about the Nature of Science.


Two hands-on exams (as opposed to traditional paper and pencils tests), about 15 written laboratory reports/assignments, and an informal written and orally presented K-6 lesson plan (see syllabus) will evaluate how well the students have meet the Student Learning Objectives.

References and Notes:

Addition Materials Needed:

In house laboratory manual.

Suggested Textbook:

Any college-level, introductory earth science textbook will be helpful for reviewing various topics. The following textbook is used in GEOL106LRS (previously ESCI300):
Foundations of Earth Science: Lutgens, F. K., and E. J. Tarbuck, 2005

Internet Sites: