Introductory Courses

Written by Char Bezanson, Science Teacher, Eastview High School, Apple Valley, MN and Instructor in Education, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.

Examples drawn from the 2003 workshop Developing the Earth Science Teacher Workforce.

Since introductory courses are the only science courses that many earth science teachers take in college, they are critical for the earth science literacy of teachers, and of K-12 students. These courses include geology, meteorology and astronomy as well as interdisciplinary science courses.

Universities have taken various approaches to providing these introductory courses to future teachers. At some, science education students take the same general education or majors' courses as any other student. This is often the case with secondary science majors. One typical variation is to have elementary education students take the same introductory level geoscience courses as non-majors while future science teachers, including earth science teaching majors, take the introductory sequence of courses for geoscience majors (for example, courses at Western Washington University). Faculty teaching these general education or introductory majors courses may be more intentional about employing good pedagogical practices (for example, those described by Good at West Chester University). In cases where the numbers warrant it, some departments have designed separate courses for future secondary teachers (for example at San Francisco State University). Faculty can also make peer-teaching, research, etc. available to prospective teachers they have identified in their classes (for example, those described by Yuretich).

Institutions that train large numbers of teachers sometimes create courses specifically for elementary teachers (for example, those at Wright State or in development at College of Charleston). These courses typically include a focus on pedagogy, "best-practices", and inquiry. Some integrated curricula go beyond individual courses, combining pedagogy with content from several subject areas (see examples from Delaware, Minnesota, and Nebraska). These courses may be co-taught with faculty from other science disciplines or from departments of Education. In this way, shared themes among the physical sciences, biology and the geosciences can be stressed while traditional discipline boundaries are deemphasized. This can allow education students to make better use of multidisciplinary learning approaches in their classrooms, as well as maximize the limited number of science credits that they take.

To examine specific examples of introductory earth science courses, browse the course collection.

Schools that are actively evaluating the role of introductory courses, especially for elementary and middle school teachers, include the following institutions:

  • Minnesota State University, Winona
  • San Francisco State University
  • San Jose State University
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
  • Wright State University, Dayton, OH