Page prepared by William Slattery of Wright State University.

Earth Systems

William Slattery

Wright State University

Course Type:
Earth System Science

Course Size:

Course Summary

Earth Systems is a web-enhanced course designed expressly for undergraduates seeking Middle Childhood Licensure with a science concentration. The course is problem based, using Deforestation, Volcanoes, and Global Climate change as springboards to explore the interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere components of the Earth system.

Participants work through real-world events in learning cycles. Co-operative learning groups are formed to explore the impact of the problem (Deforestation, Volcanoes, or Global Climate change) on one of the Earth's spheres (atmosphere, biosphere etc.) during the initial phase of the learning cycle. Then, new groups are formed to include representatives from each of the sphere groups, and an Earth system causal chain linking all the interactions between the event and the Earth's spheres is developed. Then the pre-service teachers have the opportunity to develop laboratory activity linking a related Physical or Life science concept(s) to the event they studied. Grading is based on clearly stated evaluation rubrics, and pre-service teacher participants complete a final project consisting of individual work on an Earth Systems problem. The course is partly on-line and asynchronous, that is, participants need not all be on-line at the same time, however, assignment deadlines must be met.

For Dr. Slattery's reflections on the course and its design, see Earth Systems: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

Earth Systems is a course taken only by pre-service Middle School Teachers (grades 4-9) that are seeking a Science Licensure concentration. The course has 24 quarter hours of pre-requisites including a course in integrating Math & Science and inquiry based courses in Physical, Life and Earth/Space science. The course emphasizes using cooperative learning, research as a tool in inquiry based science investigations, developing laboratory activities that connect Physical and Life science concepts with the Earth system. The course models scientific writing and meets for six hours per week for the 10 week quarter.

Course Goals:

Skills Goals

  • working in cooperative learning groups
  • student writing
  • quantitative abilities
  • using content specific pedagogy age appropriate to middle school
  • research in service to problem based learning
  • critical analysis of web sites used in research
  • building connections between concepts in the sciences
  • using rubrics to assess and evaluate student efforts

Attitudinal Goals

  • building students' confidence in teaching science in self-contained classrooms
  • developing students' sense of stewardship of the Earth
  • improving students' sense of healthy skepticism
  • increasing student excitement/personal wonder about learning about the Earth
  • changing student attitudes toward science

Course Content:

The Earth Systems course covers the interrelationships between real world events such as Hurricanes, Volcanic eruptions, Rainforest deforestation and Global Change and the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. The course models content specific pedagogy, a writing template that includes assertions, depth of reasoning and quality of support. In addition to working through several modules and the associated independent research the students also craft age appropriate laboratories to connect Mathematics, Physical science and Life science concepts with the larger Earth System.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 31kB Apr19 07)

For an example activity from this course, see Destruction of the Rainforest and Atmospheric Oxygen.


Rubrics are used throughout the course. The same rubrics that are used by students to develop their final products are the same rubrics used by course facilitators to evaluate their products.

References and Notes:

Academic Content Standards K-12 Science Ohio Dept. of Education 2003

National Research Council. National Science Education Standards . Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996

Earth System Science Education Alliance On-line course website ( This site may be offline. )