Page prepared for SERC by James Ebert of SUNY Oneonta.

Laboratory Techniques in Earth Science

James R. Ebert
State University of New York at Oneonta

Course URL:

Course Type:
Pre-service Teacher Preparation and Earth Science Content

Course Size:
Less than 15

Course Summary

This course is designed to provide students with opportunities and experiences that will enable them to teach inquiry-based earth science. The focus is on the unifying concepts and processes of science as applied to planet Earth. The specific Earth Science content from the New York State Physical Setting: Earth Core Curriculum, supplemented by National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) will provide the backdrop for the exploration and development of inquiry-based laboratory experiences. Students will participate in laboratory experiences that model inquiry-based instruction; they will design and present laboratory investigations, activities and demonstrations that will model science as inquiry. Content and instruction in this course are consistent with the NSES, NSTA Standards and New York's MST Learning Standards.

For Dr. Ebert's reflections on the course and its design, see Laboratory Techniques in Earth Science: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This is an upper-division course with a pre-requisite of at least 6 semester hours of approved courses in the Earth Sciences. The class meets one day per week for two hours and is scheduled with the co-requisite course Techniques for the General Science Laboratory. Course is for majors in Adolescent Education Earth Science, though some students majoring in Elementary Education have also taken the course.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to:
  1. Make educated decisions regarding the quality and utility of instructional resources.
  2. Design and implement inquiry-based laboratory instruction.
  3. Conduct original research in the creation or improvement of physical models, laboratory investigations and demonstrations.
  4. Transform "cook book" or confirmatory laboratory activities into standards-based, inquiry-driven lessons that address content through experience rather than lecture.
  5. Critically read primary literature in geoscience education and use this literature to inform decisions regarding choice, preparation and modification of instructional resources.
  6. Actively participate as early-career professionals in a variety of venues such as conferences, professional development workshops and email lists.
  7. Reflect thoughtfully on their own learning, teaching experiences and pedagogical decisions.

Course Content:

This Earth Science course focuses on pedagogical content knowledge rather than solely on Earth Science content. It is designed to address Earth Science content through participation in and design of inquiry-based laboratory experiences.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 67kB Apr16 07)
Research Project On Models (Acrobat (PDF) 46kB Apr16 07)
Project Besser (Acrobat (PDF) 28kB Apr16 07)
Genie In A Bottle Inquiry (Acrobat (PDF) 22kB Apr16 07)

For an example activity from this course, see Class Research Project: Visualizing Large-Scale Earth Processes and Abstract Concepts.


Student learning is assessed through critical evaluation of written lesson plans, research projects, reports and discussion of papers from the primary literature, as well as evaluation of presentations in the class.

References and Notes:

Gilbert, Steven W.; Ireton, Shirley Watt. Understanding Models in Earth and Space Science. NSTA Press, Allington VA 2003.

Finkel, D., 2000, Teaching With Your Mouth Shut: Heinemann Publishing

New York State Physical Setting: Earth Core Curriculum & Reference Tables

New York State Learning Standards for Mathematics, Science, and Technology

National Research Council, 1996, National Science Education Standards

NSTA, 1997, NSTA Pathways to the Science Standards, High School Edition: NSTA, Arlington, VA, 146p.

NSTA, 1998, NSTA Pathways to the Science Standards, Middle School Edition: NSTA, Arlington, VA, 146p.

[link list.html 'Email Lists for science teachers'], especially ESPRIT and 5-8Science


DLESE —Digital Library of Earth System Education

NAGT—National Association of Geoscience Teachers, including the Journal of Geoscience Education.

NESTA —National Earth Science Teachers Association, including the Earth Scientist journal.

GSA —Geological Society of America, especially Education and Teacher Resources.

SERC Teach the Earth portal

STANYS—Science Teachers Association of New York State Especially the annual conference, every November in Ellenville and the Share-a-thon.

NSTA—National Science Teachers Association

NSTA Journal: The Science Teacher

NSTA Books: especially the "Stop Faking It" series

NASA —National Aeronautics and Space Adiminstration

USGS —United States Geological Survey

Earth2Class (more info) —Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Mark Francek's Resources for Earth Science and Geography Instruction (more info)

The Weather Channel