Page prepared for SERC by Jennifer Anderson of Winona State University.

Earth - The Water Planet

Jennifer L.B. Anderson and Cathy Summa

Winona State University

Course Type:
Science Content for Elementary Education Majors

Course Size:

Course Summary

This interdisciplinary course is the first of two science content courses specifically designed for elementary education majors (K-5). It is team-taught by two science faculty from Geoscience, Physics, Chemistry, and/or Biology. The course is structured similar to how the students' future elementary classrooms will be structured: all course activities that help students learn content are inquiry based and constructed with commonly available materials that they will have access to in their future classrooms. The science content is taught around the common theme of water, another material that the students' will have access to in their future classrooms. The course is assessed primarily through metacognitive reflective essays, concept maps, and larger projects.

For Dr. Anderson's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth - The Water Planet: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This is a science content course designed specifically for elementary education majors in their sophomore year of college that is entirely inquiry-based and hands-on. It is the first of three Investigative Science courses where the second in the series is science methods and the third is another science content course. The course meets for five hours per week, has a required one-day field trip and at least one trip to a local elementary school where students work with elementary students.

Course Goals:

At the end of this course, students will be able to:
  • Make connections between the macroscopic and microscopic worlds.
  • Construct a model illustrating how water impacts the Earth (what and where is water; how does water affect the Earth; how do things affect water).
  • Design and construct a simple experiment that can be completed in an elementary classroom.
  • Synthesize diverse information to draw reasonable scientific conclusions and to support those conclusions with evidence and scientific reasoning.
  • Solve simple mathematical problems.
  • Read, interpret, and make graphs and diagrams.
  • Design, implement, and assess the effectiveness of science activities for elementary school children.

In addition, students will recognize that they are able "to do" science, will become more enthusiastic about science, and will start to see science all around them.

Course Content:

Course content in four science areas (Geoscience, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) is taught around the common theme of water. Major sub-themes include the nature/philosophy of science, water in the environment, cave systems, pollution, chemistry of water, physics of water, why things float/sink, gas laws, energy. A one-day field trip travels to a nearby cave system to examine the effect of water in our environment, perform water sample analyses, and explore surface features related to water. Beyond science content, this course is also designed to integrate pedagogy into the course structure to help students develop pedagogical content knowledge. Along with this, students design lesson plans and teach those plans to each other and they also visit a local elementary classroom (under closely supervised conditions) where they interact directly in the classroom with elementary students.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 144kB May7 07)

For example activities from this course, see Water Quality Testing in your Local Water Cycle and Why do some things float while other things sink?.


There are no exams or homework sets in this class. Rather, students are required to complete metacognitive reflective essays for each activity (or small group of activities) that they complete in class. These essays include the lesson plan for the activity they performed as well as a more personal response to the activity that includes what they learned, when they learned it, any changes they would make for future classroom use, and connections they identify from this activity to their world, to other activities, etc. Activities include large group projects like creating a concept map about water that links all of their course experiences and smaller activities.

Rubric for assessing metacognitive reflections (Acrobat (PDF) 146kB May7 07)

Assessment Rubric for Earth: The Water Planet (Acrobat (PDF) 23kB May11 07)

References and Notes:

No texts are used in this class.