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The Water Planet: Role in the Program

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

A discussion of the design and implementation of a geoscience content course serving pre-service teachers at Winona State University, created by Jennifer Anderson and Cathy Summa.

A description of this course and its goals is available.

What Role Does this Course Play in Teacher Preparation?

This course is the first of a series of three science courses that will, eventually, be required of all elementary education majors at Winona State University. Two of the courses are primarily content based and the third is a standard science methods course. Despite that distinction, the faculty who developed the content courses have intentionally integrated pedagogy into the course structure to help students develop pedagogical content knowledge. A second goal is that students will come away from this course with a "toolbox" of inquiry-based activities, and the ability to design others, that will engage students in their future classrooms. A final goal is that our students develop metacognitive skills that will enable them to analyze and assess their own learning and teaching.

How does the Course Address Each Role?

  1. Developing pedagogical content knowledge: students prepare and deliver lessons to peers, instructors, and eventually (at least once during the semester) to elementary classrooms.
  2. Designing inquiry-based activities: the lessons that students develop for elementary students are all inquiry based and must make use of commonly available materials; all course activities that help students learn content are also inquiry based and constructed with commonly available materials (rather than fancy scientific equipment).
  3. Developing metacognitive ability: student assessment is based, in part, on their reflective journaling. Class discussion focuses in part on how people learn and students are asked/required to explore and articulate the challenges they face in learning course material. The scoring rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 146kB May7 07) includes a portion based on skill development in addition to content development.

How do Students Integrate Learning & Teaching?

The primary form of assessment in this course is via student reflection. The scoring rubric was developed by the faculty team in collaboration with students in the pilot section and includes assessment of content learning and skill development, as well as assessment of the impact of student-developed activities on elementary-level students. Students are continually challenged to address their own learning and how it relates to how they would teach the content.

How does the Course Transition Pre-service Teachers into the Classroom?

Students in this course design lessons/activities that they deliver, under strongly supervised conditions, to local elementary classes. Prior to going to the classroom, the lessons are "tested" on the rest of the class. Activities and delivery are revised based on feedback from faculty and peers. Students make one-two classroom visits during the semester and work directly in the classroom with elementary students. Following each classroom visit, students write guided reflection pieces about their experience that focus on their practice, on their personal learning from the experience, and on student learning from the activity.

How is the Course Content Aligned with the National Science Education Standards?

Course content is aligned with Minnesota State Licensure standards for elementary science teachers. These standards were developed from the National Science Education Standards. All course content focuses on scientific topics related to water, and includes content in each of the natural sciences. Additionally, the course was developed to address the AAAS Benchmarks of Science Literacy and meets several content goals outlined in this document.

How does the Course Meet Certification Requirements?

This course meets licensure requirements by providing students integrated content in the natural sciences required of beginning teachers at elementary levels (grades K-5 in Minnesota). Students learn about the nature and process of science, mass and volume so that they then can derive the concept of density, pollution and contamination, the greenhouse effect and climate change, etc.

What Challenges have been Encountered in Teaching this Course? How have they been Resolved?

A major challenge in teaching this course is helping students understand the value of the rigorous work they engage in during the course. They complain almost continually about the workload and express concern that they "don't need to know" the content in the depth expected because they are "only" going to teach elementary grades. Another related challenge is overcoming students' perceptions that they "can't do" or "don't like" science (and/or math). The course is writing intensive and students are assessed primarily upon their written reflections. Thus, another challenge is overcoming students' unwillingness to write. Bringing faculty together from four science disciplines presented a challenge in developing and agreeing on appropriate content; after the pilot section where all faculty were involved, each section is team taught by only two faculty who do their best to represent all the natural sciences. This challenge was overcome by building trust among the design group and now we are working to bring new colleagues into the teaching circle. We try, in each section, to represent as diverse a scientific spectrum of interests as possible. A final challenge has been working with the college of education to institutionalize the course and to offer it to a target student population in their sophomore, rather than freshman, year. We're still working on this one.