Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants

Karen Havholm

Department of Geology
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

UWEC Background
~10,500 students, primarily undergraduate
Began as a teacher's college and continues to have a strong teacher preparation program
Geology department participates in preparation of elementary/middle level teachers (grades 1-9), and is gearing up to participate in preparation of secondary earth science teachers.

Elementary/Middle (1-9) Teacher Preparation
Students are required to take 4 credits each of Life Science, Physical Science and Earth Science. The Earth Science course is specially designed for these students. Course was designed in conjunction with School of Education faculty and in-service teachers.
Features include:

  • Lab-oriented course
    • Whole class (50 or 75 students) meet twice a week for 50 minutes. Lab sections (25 maximum) meet once a week for 4 hours. Approximately half of the lab periods in a semester are spent in field experiences. Students learn stratigraphic principles and rock identification in the field. Developing the "Local Geology Story" is a major component of the course.
  • Mixture of cooperative and individual learning
    • Students work in groups of 3 or 4 throughout the semester during lab. When groups work well they can be highly synergistic with students doing a lot of teaching of and learning from their peers. Generally one or two groups do not work well, even after juggling to try to match pace, and those students have an experience that is less rich.
  • Assessment instruments: many and varied
    • Students have a number of individual writing assignments (local geology report and cross-section, project - teacher observation or children's book), an assignment that asks them to connect course content to a life experience, and a reflective piece. Other homework assignments include things like rock identification exercises, a time line drawn to scale, and exercises in stratigraphic interpretation, weather prediction and topographic map reading. There is a weekly lab quiz taken as a group, to ensure understanding of the key lab concepts, and there is a group field test. There are also 4 pencil and paper tests taken in class (mostly short-answer questions).
  • Focus on process of science over "facts"
    • Wherever possible the course emphasizes how we know what we know. For example, plate tectonics is introduced through a historical perspective, showing the kinds of data that prompted ideas of both Continental Drift, early in the 20th century, and Plate Tectonics, later in the 20th century. The focus when learning the layers of the earth is on the evidence for the layers and their composition. The whole field sequence demonstrates how a geologist determines the stratigraphy and geologic history of an area and how a hydrogeologist determines how groundwater interacts with the geology.
  • Opportunity to observe elementary/middle school earth science classes for class project
    • Students have to take all of their science courses before they can apply for admission to the school of education. Many of them have had few to no classroom experiences since they have been in college at the time they take these classes. The opportunity to observe earth science being taught can confirm their desire to become a teacher, or in some cases, make them question their life-plan. This experience also serves to show them why they need to learn about science. "Those 5th graders were learning the same material we are learning" is not an uncommon comment in their reports.
  • Focus on enriching the perspective of future teachers
    • In the course of the semester we have daily news items, and course content is related wherever possible to daily life, showing how these topics can relate to their students' lives. The focus on local field geology also opens students eyes to notice the solid earth around them. I try to point out how what they are learning can enrich their teaching even if earth science is not a focus of their curriculum
Related activities:

I am periodically asked to help students with earth science lesson ideas/materials during later professional experiences, or to give presentations in their classes. I also informally advise students as they seek my input.

Professional development opportunities for in-service teachers provide an ongoing connection with teachers in the area. High-quality teachers are chosen to be in the pool of teachers available for observation. Designing and implementing these professional development opportunities also keeps me connected with other science educators in the University.

  • Maintaining pedagogically appropriate courses in all sciences as staff turns over.
  • Maintaining an "expensive" course in the face of budget cuts.
  • Gaining respect of the other scientists in the department for working with teachers.
  • Developing a secondary earth science teaching program.
  • Modeling appropriate pedagogy in a college setting (shared classrooms, large class sections, overcoming college student expectations for a 100-level course).
  • Working with an extremely grade-conscious population (entrance to the School of Ed is highly competitive).
  • I see working with teachers (pre-service and in-service) as a way to have a greater impact on earth science education.

Strategies for success

  • In the course, projecting enthusiasm for the subject. Showing students how they might be able to use the content in their own classrooms. Changing how students see their world. In addition, working on boosting their confidence level is critical to ensuring they will be successful in teaching science.
  • In the larger community, staying connected to the earth science teaching community and contributing expertise in hiring, selection of texts, designing curriculum, and working with in-service teachers.