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Earth Systems & the Environment: Role in the Program

Page Prepared for SERC by Sadredin C. Moosavi, Ph.D.

A discussion of the design and implementation of a general education lab science course serving pre-service teachers and general education students at San Jose State University, created by Ellen Metzger, Ph.D. , Ph.D.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

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.
  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.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

  1. The broad selection of topics and their integration through the Summing up the Sphere papers provide the pre-service teachers with a multidisciplinary perspective on the Earth system.
  2. The initial focus on the solar system provides a context within which students can construct the place of the Earth system.
  3. In completing the units in this course students examine the Earth system from the microscopic scale of minerals and cloud processes to the regional scale of tectonic structures and weather systems to the astronomical scale of the solar system. Examination of the geologic time scale gives students context for short term processes seen in weather and current systems compared to the millions of years over which plate tectonics shape the earth and solar system evolution has occurred. Connections between these spatial and temporal scales and systems is provided through the Summing up the Sphere term papers.
  4. Students examine connections between humans and the earth system through term papers focused on natural disasters.
  5. Despite uniform geologic processes observable throughout the solar system examination of the Earth relative to the other planets portrays its uniqueness.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

This course is usually taken before most students have completed their education courses. Pedagogical techniques are primarily addressed through positive modeling of an activity based science course. Providing pre-service teachers with a positive experience to learning and teaching science offers them an approach they can utilize in their own classrooms as their teaching skills grow through future pedagogy courses.

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

Students majoring in education complete an Earth science lesson plan in place of the natural disasters term paper.

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

This requirements for this course are constrained by the California content domains which are very close to the National Science Education Standards.
The San Jose State University general education guidelines mirror aspects of the National Science Education Standards . Some examples of how Earth Systems & Environment Addresses SJSU General Education Guidelines for Area R include:
  1. In order to demonstrate an understanding of the methods and limits of scientific investigation, you will:
    • Examine changing views of our planet based on satellite coverage, space shuttle images, and sophisticated computers that allow increasingly more complicated models of global processes
    • Describe how the evolution of plate tectonics theory reflects testing and rejecting of hypotheses and revising of hypotheses in response to the acquisition of new data.
  2. In order to distinguish science from pseudo-science, you will:
    • Evaluate the validity of predications that target specific dates and times for earthquakes
    • Critically assess the claims of astrology.
  3. In order to apply a scientific approach to questions about the Earth and environment, you will:
    • Use plate tectonics as a framework to predict level of risk from earthquakes and volcanoes in different areas of the world
    • Discuss the scientific evidence for global warming and explain why scientists disagree about whether we should be worried about it.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

This course is required for students seeking a multiple subject teaching license for grades K-8. It is also recommended to students in seeking single subject licensure.

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

Since its inception in 2001 as a course designed with pre-service elementary educators in mind, Earth Systems & the Environment has grown in the population it serves creating a number of challenges for the instructors.
  1. Content Restrictions
    As a course required for teacher certification, the content within this course must be tightly regulated to maintain its suitability in preparing future teachers. The volume of content demanded of a 3 hour stand-alone course by the California state standards imposes serious time and flexilibity constraints on the instructors. Careful planning and monitoring of changes in the standards is required.
  2. Student Numbers
    Earth Systems & the Environment's dual role as a requirement for pre-service teachers and general education option for students seeking a lab science has lead to difficulty in providing enough sections to meet student demand. Two instructors teaching a total of 6 sections per semester have had to be supplemented by the hiring of additional instructors. In addition, development of a hydrid on-line/on campus course is currently underway to further address demand issues.
  3. Facilities
    Initially numerous classrooms were used during the semester. This significant logistical barrier to the conduct of hands-on activities has been resolved by obtaining a dedicated room allowing materials to be set up and torn down once per semester.