Investigative Science

Course Type:
Interdisciplinary Capstone Course for Pre-service Teachers

Course Size:

Course Summary

Investigative Science serves as an interdisciplinary capstone course for pre-service teachers who have completed the year-long Matter and Energy in Earth Systems, Physical Systems and Biological Systems sequence. It is a student driven course focusing on a theme designed to incorporate all the physical, earth and biological sciences into analysis of the theme. Students brainstorm questions around a faculty selected theme such as water. The physical, chemical, biological and earth science aspects of water would then be examined in a series of experiments designed by the students with guidance from a team of instructors. Light, air and carbon represent other themes from which students can choose. The students record their process of discovery in journals as practicing scientist would.

For Dr. DeBari's reflections on the course and its design, see Investigative Science: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

Pre-service elementary and middle school teachers at Western Washington University are required to a complete a year-long sequence of courses investigating matter and energy flow in physical, earth and biological systems BEFORE taking Investigative Science as a theme based interdisciplinary capstone course. All four of these courses resulted from an extensive multi-year faculty effort to create an interdisciplinary inquiry-based curriculum for teaching science to pre-service teachers. Prior to this sequence most of the students have little science background and a general phobia about science. This course is usually taken in the junior year once students have completed three (or more) science classes.

Course Goals:

Investigative science asks students to develop a deeper understanding of how the process of science works by placing the student in the role of a scientist. Students construct their own body of knowledge relating to a theme with broad applications throughout science.Students gain a positive experience involving scientific inquiry and skills in using such techniques to answer future scientific questions.

Course Content:

Content for the course will vary with the theme selected. In the case of water, students might examine physical and chemical properties such as specific heat, density and salinity before applying these concepts to a natural system such as osmosis in a cell or the thermohaline circulation of the ocean. All themes are selected because of the breadth of application across the sciences and the ability of students to engage in hands on experiments that can be transferred to a classroom environment. The process of conducting scientific inquiry lies at the basis of the course.

Teaching Materials:

Materials available for this class on this website include:
Syllabus (Microsoft Word 26kB Jul4 05)


Students in Investigative Science are assessed by four complementary methods:

  • A journal similar to the lab journal a practicing scientist would keep while conducting research is evaluated on the student's ability to reconstruct all experiments and analyses from information recorded within it.
  • A research project produces answers to student identified questions relating to the course theme and concludes with a paper structurally similar to the lab report a scientist might submit to a professional journal.
  • Class participation is assessed to track student learning as the course progresses.
  • A summary essay insures that students clearly understand the theme being examined and how the various activiites during the semester complement and create this body of knowledge.

References and Notes:

Information on the pre-requisite Matter and Energy in Earth Systems course and its role in the program are also available.