Teacher Preparation > Supporting Preservice Teachers > Browse Teacher Preparation Courses > San Jose State University: Earth Systems and the Environment

Earth Systems and the Environment

Ellen Metzger, Ph.D. (website)
San Jose State University

Author Profile

Course Type:
Science Education/General Education - Lab Science

Course Size:
Lecture/Lab 25/25

Course Summary
Earth Systems & Environment is a dual purpose course serving both pre-service teachers and the general student population. It is a broad, activities-based earth science content course similar to a traditional Geology 101 class meeting for three hours per week. Constructivist pedagogical skills and active learning are modeled but actual teaching of pedagogy is approached passively due to the multiple student populations present in the class. Pre-service teachers do address pedagogical issues specifically in developing an earth science lesson in place of the natural hazards term paper assigned to general education students. All students focus on the earth as a system and the interconnections between the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and cosmosphere.

For Dr. Metzger's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth Systems and Environment: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

Earth Systems and the Environment was developed by the Science Education faculty to serve pre-service teachers obtaining multiple subject licenses for grades K-8 but is also recommended for teachers obtaining credentialling in a single subject. Along with courses in physical and life science, Earth Systems and the Environment completes a three course sequence of science preparatory courses. Most students take this course in their junior or senior year after their other general education courses have been completed. Non-education majors also take the course as it fulfills a general education science requirement . The student population is roughly a 50:50 mix of pre-service teachers and general education majors.

Course Goals:

This course seeks to build a broad understanding of the earth, atmosphere and hydrosphere in the context of earth as a system within the larger framework of the cosmos. Certain assignments prepare pre-service teachers for teaching earth science related content while general education students focus on natural disasters of common human concern.
  1. Present a multidisciplinary view of planet Earth and its place in the universe through the study of fundamental concepts in geology, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy.
  2. Understand that our home planet is part of a larger universe (cosmosphere) and is made of four major spheres (geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere), which interact as part of a complex and continuously changing whole called the Earth system.
  3. Describe the spatial and temporal scales of change that affect the Earth system.
  4. Examine interactions between humans and the Earth system.
  5. Gain an appreciation for the uniqueness of Earth.

Course Content:

Earth Systems & Environment divides content into the major areas of earth science; geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and cosmosphere (earth's place in space). Connections between the spheres are emphasized to insure student understanding of the earth as a system.
  1. Earth As a System
    • Light & Stars
    • Solar System
    • Sun-Earth System
    • Astrology vs. Astronomy
    • Composition, Structure, & Temperature
    • Moisture & Clouds
    • Air Pressure & Wind
    • Weather Patterns
    • Ozone & Climate Change
    • Water Cycle
    • Surface Water
    • Groundwater
    • Ocean Floor
    • Ocean Water
    • Ocean Currents & El Nino
    • Coastal processes
    • Geologic Time
    • Minerals
    • Rocks & Rock Cycle
    • Earth's Interior
    • Earthquakes
    • Plate tectonics
    • Volcanoes

Teaching Materials:

Materials available for this course on this website include:


Students in this course are assessed in via five mechanisms:

References and Notes:

Earth Systems & Environment is required for pre-service elementary educators seeking a multi-subject K-8 teaching license and is recommended for those seeking a single subject credential. The course also fulfills a lab science general education requirement and is thus taken by many non-education students.