Initial Publication Date: May 2, 2007

Theme Group 2: Earth Science for Secondary Teachers - Systems and Models

Group Members

Eric Pyle, History and Philosophy of the Geosciences
James Ebert, Laboratory Techniques in Earth Science
William Slattery, Earth Systems
Jill Singer, Oceanography
Sandra Rutherford, Methods for Teaching Secondary Earth Science
Julie Maxson

Approach to Teaching the Courses

All of these courses are different, in their relative emphasis on content vs. pedagogy, in whether they are positioned early or late in the undergraduate course sequence, or whether their intended audience is preservice teachers, in-service teachers, or general education students.
However, these are elements that are common to all these courses:

  • a focus on big ideas, relevant content and current events as appropriate, rather than focus on discrete or narrow topics.
  • a core content focused on national and state education standards or some portion of them.
  • offers integrated experience without differentiation of lecture vs. lab time.
  • using high quality stable web resources rather than textbooks.
  • use of writing as a reflective, metacognitive practice.
  • consideration of how the course content will be used by students and carried into the K-12 classroom
Map of course designs. Click to enlarge.

Course Design, Tips, and Suggestions

Our design is intentionally flexible, so that the instructor as well as the end-users of the course material can incorporate timely and relevant topics from world news or from world politics (for example, a major earthquake, tsunami or landslide that students may have heard about in the news, or new legislation that impacts global climate). Flexibility also enables use of new teaching methods.

Advantages of this approach

  • Emphasis on big ideas, cross-cutting themes, and interdisciplinary approaches.
  • Leads to students' long-term learning rather than short-term retention.
  • Provides a challenging and rewarding teaching experience, important to faculty growth and development.
  • Pedagogical model used in these courses transcends the individual topics.

Disadvantages of this approach

  • Constant need to balance breadth and depth of content. This can be a source of anxiety for the instructor and the students.
  • To the extent that we emphasize writing in these courses, assessments may be time-consuming, both for students and for the instructor.
  • The flexibility and spontaneity inherent to this teaching style may cause the classroom to be perceived as unstructured.

Tips and Suggestions

Embed high-quality, stable websites that students are likely to re-visit in the future. Avoid sending students an open-ended Google searches for information, as this is unlikely to be an effective use of their time.

To the extent that students need to develop skills in distinguishing high-quality websites, starting content-focused search engines such as DLESE, NSDL, or SERC are likely to be more valuable.

Be prepared for a range of student feedback. Some will support this style of teaching, others may be resistant to the level of participation expected.