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Earth Science from a New Perspective

Course Type:
In-service Teacher Earth Science Content Course

Course Size:
On-Line Format: 25 in Study Groups of 5 - 7

Course Summary

Earth Science from a New Perspective is the geoscience course in the 33 credit on-line graduate program Science in Education designed for K-8 science educators and curriculum coordinators. The program is built upon a combination of inquiry based science content and pedagogical instruction designed to extend understanding of science concepts, experience alternative teaching and assessment techniques for direct transfer into their own classrooms.

The course is facilitated by two faculty members, a geoscientist and an earth science educator. The former focuses on developing content understanding while the latter engages students in bringing scientific inquiry into the classroom.

All students and facilitators function through a web-based, asynchronous on-line format in which all parties perform experiments, engage in threaded discussions and complete assignments over discrete windows of time, but with the flexibility necessary for individuals to work around professional schedules. Hands-on experiments utilizing actual data occur using simple equipment in the student's home, combined with streaming web-video and digital data presented in the on-line format. Students work with their peers and facilitators in an inquiry-based process of discovery, revision and reporting that models the collaborative method practiced by scientists. Significant effort is directed at helping the in-service teachers transition their newly found content knowledge and pedagogical skills into the classroom through analysis of classroom events in case studies, student work and videos.

Earth Science is a 3 credit course focusing on geoscience concepts through a detailed analysis of the Nile River system. Geological and hydrological principles of the world's longest river system crossing through multiple geologic and climatic environments provides a prime opportunity for students to view the earth from a systemic point of view. Connections to atmospheric and oceanic processes are investigated in the Nile system. Human dependence on and alteration of the river system is also a primary emphasis. Since students cannot visit the Nile as part of the course they rely on remote sensing data and images along with data collection by other scientists for their analyses. Students are asked to transfer these skills into analysis of a new river system of their own choosing as a course project. As with all content courses in this program, Earth Science from a New Perspective is paired with a 3 credit pedagogy course. Curriculum and Reform: Teaching for Understanding focuses on bringing inquiry-based science instruction into the K-8 school curriculum in a sustained and successful manner.

For Dr. Doubler's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth Science from a New Perspective: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

Students in the Science in Education Master's program are in-service elementary and middle school teachers from urban and rural school districts across the United States and world. While some students have a scientific undergraduate major, others possess little formal scientific training. Earth Science from a New Perspective comes after Try Science and courses in Physics and Life Science. but before Engineering Design and Ecology in the science sequence at TERC. Students simultaneously complete the pedagogy course Curriculum and Reform: Teaching for Understanding.

Course Goals:

This course seeks to build understanding of Earth as a dynamic system and skill in how to analyze and interpret data to further understanding of Earth. Specific goals include developing:
  1. Inquiry and research skills
    • Making observations
    • Generating questions
    • Designing a scientific study
    • Examining & interpreting data
    • Physical & computer modeling
    • Generating explanations
    • Presenting research findings
    • Reflecting
  2. Science Concepts
    • Properties of earth materials
    • Topography
    • Stream flow dynamics
    • Erosion
    • Deposition
    • Flooding
    • Structure of the earth system
    • Plate tectonics
    • Global climate
  3. Data collected and/or examined
    • Qualitative observational data
    • Qualitative experimental data
    • Quantitative observational data
    • Published data from other researchers
    • Satellite images, photographs, maps, and hydrographs

Course Content:

This course utilizes the study of river systems and the factors which govern their behavior to investigate earth system processes. Pedagogical instruction on curriculum and reform from the companion course is interwoven throughout this course.
  • Introduction: The Nile From a New Perspective
  • The Watershed: Where Does the Water Flow and Why?
  • Understanding and Teaching for Understanding
  • Understanding Goals and Generative Topics
  • Global Precipitation: Where Does the Water Come From and Why?
  • The Floodplain: How Does the Aswan Dam Change the Nile System?
  • The Delta: How Does It Change?
  • Ongoing Assessment: How Do We Know What Students Understand?
  • River Investigation
  • Plate Tectonics
  • River Symposium

Teaching Materials:

Materials available for this course on this website include:


Assessment is performed by the co-facilitators based on student contributions to on-line discussions, submission of select journal entries, results of home experiments and projects which demonstrate student understanding of the scientific process, inquiry and relevant content. Facilitators are provided a detailed rubric for objective analysis of student contributions to the on-line discussions and the quality of feedback offered to the group. Specific assessment strategies include:

References and Notes:

This course is taught exclusively in an on-line format. All students in the program, regardless of job assignment, are pursuing a graduate degree beyond a pre-existing undergraduate program.

The Science in Education program was designed by TERC and Lesley University with support from the Department of Education and is offered to students through Lesley and Walden Universities.