Page prepared for SERC by Amy Ellwein of the University of New Mexico.


Amy Ellwein and Dr. Tim Lowrey

University of New Mexico

Course Type:
Multidisciplinary: Geomorphology, Soils, Botany, Earth System Science

Course Size:
less than 20

Course Summary
This field-based course for pre- and in-service teachers was modified from an upper-level Botany course to focus on earth and life science content as described in the revised 2003 New Mexico Science Standards. For Dr. Ellwein's reflections on the course and its design, see Geobotany: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

Geobotany is an upper-division, week-long, residential field course for K-12 in-service and pre-service teachers that has no prerequisites. The course integrates field and laboratory investigations as well as daily reflective writing. Participants receive either free tuition or a modest stipend for their participation and free lodging at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research site.

Course Goals:

Content Goals: At the end of the course, participants should be able to:
  • identify major rock types and interpret process of formation based on observable features
  • evaluate how variations in effective moisture in the landscape affects the patterns seen in vegetation and soils
  • formulate hypotheses regarding observed patterns in the distribution of plants, landforms, and rock types
  • analyze the features of a plant to determine the family to which it belongs
  • evaluate soil profiles in multiple locations to determine the effects of climate/microclimate, organisms, relief/topography, parent material, and duration of time over which they've formed
  • synthesize content learned and extract appropriate content for grade-level taught
  • more accurately understand the nature of scientific inquiry
  • apply content to current societal issues
Skills Goals:
  • Become familiar with the idea and utility of being a "reflective practitioner": have participants explicitly monitor their current level of mastery and understanding of the content and question what they still need to learn
  • Learn to make meaningful field and laboratory observations
  • Gain an understanding of how field-based science is conducted with the intent of doing field-based science with their students
Attitudinal Goals:
  • Increase participants' self-efficacy in doing science, especially field-based science
  • Generate enthusiasm for teaching multidisciplinary science at lower grade levels
  • Foster an improved "comfort level" for teaching geology in non-geology high school science courses

Course Content:

Geobotany focuses on plant form, function, and adaptations and the effects of landforms, rock types, and soils on the distribution of plants. We use an earth system science approach in that we also touch on meteorology, climatology, and New Mexico's geologic history. In the context of this course, we cover basic rock identification, map reading and interpretation of aerial photographs, and identification of major plant families. Participants make observations and interpretations in the field and lab every day. At the end of each day, participants write about their experiences and self-confidence and perceieved competence (self-efficacy) as amateur practioners of science in a reflective writing exercise, for which instructors provide feedback each evening. On the last day of the course, participants are taken to a location with different geobotanical relationships than they've previously studied and work in groups to explain and discuss the relationships they observe.

Teaching Materials:


We use several assessment methods in this course including:
  • Pre- and post-tests of geology and botany content knowledge
  • Ongoing group and individual discussions in field and laboratory settings
  • Daily examination of field notes and reflective writing (daily formative assessment):
    1. read participants' field notes and make suggestions (e.g. field sketching) or corrections
    2. use their misconceptions in the following days' instruction
    3. assess answers to questions that attend to the learning environment and the affective domain.
  • Journal evaluation: completeness and conscientiousness (see syllabus for details)
  • Final paper due two weeks after course completion: This 10-page summative assessment focuses on how participants plan to use the content with their students and how those plans meet state science standards.

References and Notes:

Harwood, W.S. (2004) . A New Model for Inquiry: Is the Scientific Method Dead? Journal of College Science Teaching, 33(7).