Earth Science for Elementary Educators II

Heather Petcovic
Western Michigan University

Course URL:

Course Type:
Physical Geology

Course Size:

Course Summary
This laboratory-based course is specifically designed for prospective elementary teachers and covers physical/historical geology content with reference to state elementary (K-8) benchmarks. The objectives of the course are to aid students in developing meaningful and functional understanding of key earth science concepts and their interrelations; to provide students with open-ended problems solving environments that facilitate insight in the nature of science as an intellectual activity; to explore alternate conceptions of scientific phenomena; to help students develop more positive attitudes about science and increase their confidence in their ability to do science.

For Dr. Petcovic's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth Science for Elementary Educators II: Role in the program.

Course Context:

This entry-level physical and historical geology course is designed specifically for pre-service elementary (K-8) teachers. The course integrates laboratory activities and discussions in two, 2-hour and 20-minute weekly sessions. Homework and a semester project supplement the in-class learning. Enrollment is limited to 24 students.

This course is part of a six-course sequence for pre-service elementary teachers offered by the Mallinson Institute for Science Education at WMU, with two courses each in the areas of life, physical, and earth science. All elementary education majors are required to take this course, or the companion course in physical geography (Earth Science for Elementary Educators I). All students pursuing certification in elementary integrated science are required to take both earth science courses.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course students will:
  1. Understand why it is important for children to learn earth science;
  2. Learn key concepts of earth science through the process of inquiry;
  3. Be able to reflect upon the nature and practice of earth science as a process rather than a body of disconnected facts to be memorized;
  4. Be better able to make decisions concerning what concepts in earth science are the most important for children to learn; and,
  5. Reflect upon how they themselves learn earth science and the implications of these reflections for how it should be taught.


By the end of this course, students will:
  • Be familiar with the Michigan Benchmarks for Science Literacy in the context of the Earth Science Strand V: Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, and Solar System and Universe (Goal 1);
  • Be able to relate the study of earth science to contemporary, historical, technological, and societal issues (Goal 1);
  • Be familiar with key concepts, developments, and reasoning strategies used in earth science such that they are able to solve problems in open-ended, inquiry environments using materials, maps, data collection tools, models and computer simulations, other class activities and discussions, and background readings (Goals 2 and 3);
  • Be able to describe fundamental aspects of the nature of science and scientific inquiry within the discipline of earth science (e.g. role of observation and inference, empirical basis, role of creativity, validity of claims, multiple methods, among others) (Goal 3);
  • Be able to locate and evaluate lesson plans and other curricular materials in the earth sciences using both traditional (i.e., books, journal articles) and web-based resources (Goal 4).
  • Become familiar with common misconceptions both adults and children have in the earth sciences through a research investigation and interviews with children (Goals 4 and 5).

Course Content:

This Earth Science course focuses on physical and historical geology and also touches on topics in meteorology and climate, oceans, and the solar system. The course has three units: Inside Earth (covering topics in plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes, minerals, and rocks), Earth Surface and Environment (covering topics including soil, landslides, glaciers, river and beach systems, and groundwater), and Earth History (covering fossils, relative and absolute age dating, and geologic time). A field trip to a local nature center provides students with an opportunity to experience geologic phenomena first-hand. Classroom activities and discussions focus on science content, scientific inquiry, and children's ideas in earth science.

Teaching Materials:

Classroom activities and out-of-class assignments are provided in a required student coursepack, which students purchase. The title page and table of contents of the student course pack are provided below. A sample student activity and accompanying instructor notes are also provided. Student homework assignments are completed on-line via WebCT Vista, and consist of short reading assignments and questions. The course syllabus includes a message to students about the rationale and format for the course, course goals, instructor and student responsibilities, classroom policies and procedures, grading policy, classroom activity schedule, assignments, and the semester project including scoring rubrics. The full 22-page syllabus is available below.


Methods of assessment used in this course include:
  • Administration of a content-oriented pre-test with identical questions embedded in exams (Course goal 2)
  • Administration of a pre- and post- instruction earth science attitude and teaching efficacy survey (Course goal 1)
  • Graded questions associated with each in-class laboratory activity (Course goals 2, 3, 4, and 5)
  • Online graded homework assignments associated with each activity (Course goals 2 and 4)
  • Content and process skill exams (Course goals 2 and 3)
  • Semester project in which students investigate children's ideas in earth science and design a lesson plan that draws out their prior knowledge, introduces new concepts, and assesses the effectiveness of teaching (Course goals 1, 4, and 5)

References and Notes: