Theme Group 3: Earth Science for Elementary Teachers - Course Design

Group Members, Course Names

1. Lydia K. Fox, Earth System Science
2. Scott Linneman, Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Earth Systems
3. Matt Nyman, Physical Science
4. Rebecca L. Dodge, Life and Earth Science
5. Cathy Summa, Earth - The Water Planet
6. Steve Mattox, Hydrosphere for K-8 Teachers

Rationale for Developing and Offering Such Courses (or how to convince your administration and colleagues to support your efforts in these endeavors)

The critical need to improve science literacy in the US is in part linked to producing a strong cadre of science teachers at all levels. This begins with elementary teachers, who can often make or break a child's interest in science. Unfortunately, many elementary education majors admit readily to being "scared of science", that they "can't do science", or, worst of all, that they "hate science." When probed, most admit that they had a "bad" (or non-existent) experience with science instruction in elementary or middle school. As a result, most students avoid science at the high school and college/university levels. To improve teacher preparation, it is important to build the disposition and ability to effectively teach science that fosters students' natural curiosity about the world. We submit that targeted classes that teach pre-service teachers to teach earth science at elementary grades is critical to achieving this goal. Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. To ensure that teachers use a variety of instructional strategies including inquiry-based science that keeps students engaged, they must learn science this way. Courses modeled after these recommendations provide examples of ways to facilitate this vision.

Characteristics of Effective Earth Science Courses for Future Elementary Teachers

(Notes in the text below link to representative examples in the course descriptions)
  • a majority of contact time should be in small classes (20-30; note that most of these courses are taught at public universitites)
  • integrative themes (e.g. water, energy, climate change)
  • integration of lecture and lab activities
  • focused content chosen purposefully (+/- tied to K-8 standards) to allow greater depth of exploration, which allows students to build critical skill sets, improve confidence to learn, do and teach science
  • promote learning about the scientific enterprise and habits of mind
    • students make observations and collect data of earth systems
    • students interpret data and observations of earth systems
    • some of these observations should be in the field
    • students communicate results of investigations
  • transferable activities: students are able to use activities in future K-8 classroom (materials readily available and low cost)
  • emphasis on metacognition with respect to both student learning of science and forethought about teaching science
  • provide opportunities to practice developing, evaluating, and delivering geoscience lessons
  • students find appropriate resources for learning and teaching science
  • appropriate professional development and engagement
  • use a range of formative and authentic assessments of content understanding

Important Design Considerations: Guidelines, Tips, and Suggestions

  • secure administrative support (small classes may not fit the business model of some universities)
  • professional development of the involved constituencies (designers and instructors, administrators, disciplinary colleagues, community college partners)
  • appropriate staffing
  • appropriate instructional facilities (tables & sinks vs lecture theatres), equipment and materials
Most of these considerations are substantially more expensive than all-lecture instruction, but the long-term gains of a scientifically literate society justify such investment.

References and Resources

Levine, A. (2006). Educating School Teachers. Washington, D.C.: The Educating Schools Project.

Lawson, A.E. (1994). Science Teaching and the Development of Thinking. Wadsworth Publishing Company.