Teacher Preparation > Supporting Practicing Teachers > Earth Science for Educators: Program

A part of the SERC Teacher Professional Development Program Collection

Earth Science for Educators

(Page prepared for SERC by Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D.)

Robert D. Shuster, Ph.D.

Dept. of Geography/Geology, University of Nebraska, Omaha
Program Type: Professional Development Course (taught in Summer, can be part of a Masters Program)
Program Size: 7-24 practicing teachers, all levels K-12


This Earth science content course is offered in the summer for practicing K-12 teachers working toward a Certificate in Urban Education or a Masters of Education. Teachers explore the interdisciplinary nature of Earth science, learn about Earth science standards, participate in Urban Field Trips, and develop inquiry-based units of study for use in their classrooms. This course is part of 9 years of collaboration between the Colleges of Education and the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and the Omaha Public School District. One faculty member from the Department of Geography and Geology teaches this course.

A description of the course content and goals is also available.

What was the impetus for the program?

In the Omaha Public School District, Earth science is not required for graduation, but the Earth science standards must still be covered. Therefore, the Earth Science standards were placed within the Biology, Chemistry, or Physics classes. This created a need for these teachers to understand Earth science concepts, the Earth Science standards, and how they could integrate those concepts and standards into their classes.

How is the program structured?

This course meets 2-3 hours for 2-3 weeks during the summer. Approximately three weeks after the course ends, the teachers reconvene to present to each other their designed curricula. Activities include minimal lecture, hands-on learning, and local field trips.

Who is involved?

One geoscience faculty member teaches this summer session course offered through the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. The time commitment is slightly higher than for a typical geoscience course because of the need to understand the Earth Science content standards and the flexibility to deal with teachers from different grade levels and background knowledge.

The practicing teachers are from all levels (P-12) and science fields. Teachers must be admitted as students at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, through the Education Department. Teachers receive 3 credit-hours for this course which counts toward either their Urban Education certificate or the Masters of Education program at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. The associated grant funds tuition, books, and materials for those teachers coming from the Omaha Public School System.

How is the program evaluated?

Teachers fill out in-class evaluations at the end of the course. These evaluations are generally very positive. Other evaluation is anecdotal. The course has run for a number of years and is popular with teachers from the Omaha School District and beyond. The general experience of the geoscience faculty member is positive: "I find myself energized at the end of it. [The teachers] seem happy and appreciative." – Dr. Robert D. Shuster (personal communication)

How is the program maintained and funded?

Major funding for this course is provided from a National Science Foundation Urban Systemic Program grant to the Omaha Public Schools and University of Nebraska, Omaha (Grant #9550559) . This program is entering its final year of a ten-year grant and is expected to become self-sustaining because of the level of involvement of non-grant-supported teachers outside of the Omaha Public School District.

Hints for starting a program like this:

  • Create and cultivate meaningful collaborations between the Science Departments, the Colleges of Education, and the local school district.
  • Collaborate with members of the Education Department as well as local Master Teachers when developing and designing a course like this.
  • Generate good relationships with the College of Education and/or the Education Department as well as the Deans of the various colleges.
  • Find out what local teachers need by talking with teachers and administrators and be flexible to meet these needs.
– Dr. Robert D. Shuster (personal communication)

References and Notes:

  • Dr. Shuster presented a talk about this course at the North-Central GSA Meeting in 2005 (abstract) .