Page created for SERC by Scott Linneman of Western Washington University.

Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Earth Systems

Scott Linneman

Western Washington University

Course Type:
Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Summary

This course is an inquiry-based survey of Earth Science designed to give a basic understanding of the energy transfers occurring in solid Earth and the processes by which they occur. The course has no lectures and involves small group work, large group discussions and extensive reflective writing.

For Dr. Linneman's reflections on the course and its design, see Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Earth Systems: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This course is 2nd part of a General Education Requirement science sequence, SCED 201-203, that is recommended for students pursuing a career in elementary education. This course is open to all students who have completed SCED 201 (Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Physical Systems). After SCED202, students will take SCED203 (Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Living Systems).

Course Goals:

SCED 202 Student Learning Outcomes

Students successfully completing SCED202 will be able to:

  1. Explain to a non-scientist how science is a universal language that transcends race, cultures, and geography.
  2. Dscribe how people learn via different learning styles through group work in discussion and laboratory activities.
  3. Express their belief that scientific literacy is possible for any person.
  4. Develop hypotheses and design experiments to answer basic questions they have identified.
  5. Construct models explaining the components of systems and their interactions.
  6. Read and interpret scientific data presented graphically.
  7. Demonstrate understanding that sufficient data and multiple fundamental scientific theories are needed to explain complex systems and that these theories evolve.
  8. Use the concept of energy as a powerful tool for looking at the relationships of Earth systems and their changes over time.
  9. Explain with specific examples how the transfer of heat from the interior of the Earth toward the surface causes slow changes in the position of the Earth's plates (e.g., formations of mountains and ocean basins) and relatively rapid changes at the surface (e.g., volcanic eruptions and earthquakes).
  10. Explain that Earth exists in a solar system, consisting of a star (the Sun) and nine major planets, that resides in the Milky Way galaxy, consisting of hundreds of billions of stars, that resides in the universe, containing many billions of galaxies.
  11. Explain with specific examples how physical evidence, such as fossils, relationships between rock units, and radioisotopic dating, provide evidence for the Earth's evolution and development.
  12. Explain how energy interactions and changes are fundamental in explaining the dynamics of living organisms, the earth and the universe.

Course Content:

This course develops understanding of solid earth processes, especially plate tectonics, by focusing on transfers of matter and energy. The course builds on understanding of fundamental physics topics developed in SCED 201 and continues the same pedagogical approach. This approach uses a learning cycle of: elicitation of initial ideas, engagement in activities that require students to think about what they observe, small group and whole class discussions in which a high value is places on evidence, and finally extensive reflection on their own learning.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 53kB Apr16 07)
Cover and Table of Contents to Course Manual (Acrobat (PDF) 891kB Apr16 07)


Students are assessed via their participation in group activities, homework, writing assignments (learning reflections), and end-of-cycle tests.

References and Notes:

The physics course (SCED201) uses the Physics for Everyone (PET) curriculum, available from It's About Time Publishing. We publish our own course manuals for SCED202 and 203, modeled after the PET.