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History and Philosophy of the Geosciences: Role in the Program

Page developed for SERC by Eric Pyle of James Madison University.

A discussion of the design and implementation of a history and philosophy of science course serving pre-service teachers at James Madison University, created by Eric J. Pyle, Lynn S. Fichter, and Steven J. Whitmeyer.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

As a part of their preparation, it is important for new teachers to have mastered not just the content knowledge in their area, but also to have some framework with which to make sense of that knowledge.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

The course is organized around a series of topics:

I. Overview of the Human Need and Search for Truth II. Critical Skepticism and Science III. Three Phases of Science IV. Science vs. Pseudoscience vs. Nonscience V. Geology as a Historical Science VI. The Nature of Authority VII. A Unifying theory in the geosciences-crisis case study VIII. Non-classical views of Earth science IX. The practice vs. instruction in the geosciences X. Social commentaries on the Earth sciences and Earth systems

Through lecture and discussion between instructors in the classroom and in the field, students are able to see scientific dialogue in action, and are encouraged to participate in this dialogue. Through seminar readings and discussion, students witness the development of ideas in the geosciences and are expected to take some lead in integrating the ideas into their own development. Carefully selected hands-on/minds-on activities are also used to illustrate particular points and also serve as a the basis for future instruction.

Above all, we attempt to represent what T.C. Chamberlin first suggested in 1897: "The endeavor is to discover new truth, or at least to develop by one's own effort an individualized assemblage of truth. The endeavor is to think for one's self, whether the thinking lies wholly in the fields of previous thought or not." (Chamberlin, The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses). In doing so, we seek for students to see the nature of science as valuable, but also that the structure of the geosciences is distinct from other sciences.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

Students do not actually have responsibility to teach a lesson as a part of this course, but are expected to evaluate their personal perspectives on science and science processes, models of teaching Earth science, and the organization of Earth science instructional materials as a reflection of the nature of the geosciences.

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

As an introductory course in a program leading to a BA, the course is not directly charged with transitioning pre-service teachers into the classroom. What the course does provide, however, is a critical framework reflecting the history and traditions of the Earth sciences in general, and also contextualizes the philosophical underpinnings of knowledge and learning that are part of general educational foundations courses. In the end, the process by which they will eventually plan and execute lessons will be directed by an understanding of where the knowledge comes from and what the limits of the knowledge are.

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

Concentrating primarily at the 9-12 grade band (but not neglecting the 5-8 grade band), this course addresses the following NSES standards:



How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

In Virginia, Earth science teachers need to have a bachelor's degree in Geology, Earth Science, or Environmental Science that includes at least 32 semester hours of geology, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy/space science, from an accredited institution. They must also complete at least 17 hours of cognate science in chemistry, biology, and physics, and at least 7 hours of mathematics. Given this broad collection of courses, we believed that it was important to have coursework that "ties it all together." This course also fulfills, in part, the requirements of the NCATE/NSTA standards for science teacher preparation, specifically related to the history and nature of science, scientific inquiry, and unifying themes in science. This courses is also bookended by a capstone course, GEOL 477: Contemporary Issues in the Geosciences, projected to be offered no earlier than the Spring of 2008.

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

With three co-instructors, the challenges of coordinating efforts on planning, instructional delivery, and assessment, it has been somewhat difficult to adhere to the rather ambitious schedule of topics. We do all like to talk from our individual perspectives, and model for students the processes of negotiation and dialogue. In all instances, the students are not merely the audience, but are invited into the dialogue, as a form of legitimate peripheral participation. Nevertheless, we have come to realize that we have some differences in what we might expect of students in this class, and how the course is to further their experiences in the BA program. But as this was the first offering of a new course, we anticipated that such challenges would arise, and as a result have expanded our normal dialogue to include this courses as a topic. We have come to realize that we simply have designed too much into the course, and are trimming it to meet the realities of delivery.