Lesson Plan Experiences in Science Content Courses

Earth Science for Elementary Teachers - Including Lesson Design

Group Members

Heather Petcovic, Earth Science for Elementary Educators II
Ann Bykerk-Kauffman, Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences
Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman, Liberal Studies Science Experience Capstone Course
Barry Bickmore, Earth Science for Elementary Education Majors
Jennifer Anderson, Earth - The Water Planet

What does this mean?

Content courses for pre-service teachers do not just have to cover content. They can also incorporate opportunities for the students to create their own science lessons, and implement them.

Why should I do this?

One of the outcomes of a science course specifically for pre-service teachers should be that they are able to design and implement science lessons that incorporate inquiry-based pedagogy. If that is what we want for our students, we cannot simply model effective teaching practices or just talk about them. We have to give the students practice using them.

But wait! Don't they usually take a "Science Teaching Methods" course that covers all that stuff? Yes, but there are a number of reasons to incorporate lesson design experiences into science content courses, as well. Here is a partial list.

  • A well-designed course is connected in substantial ways to what students learn in their other courses.
  • Many of the pre-service elementary teachers are science-phobic! When we clearly connect the science content we want to teach to what the students are interested in (teaching kids,) they respond with much more enthusiasm.
  • In fact, such experiences often help the students decide whether they really want to be teachers.
  • The experience becomes a kind of watershed for many students, because they find out just how smart school children can be, and what kind of effort needs to go into teaching them the content state and local governments are expecting. This can be facilitated by an authentic teaching experience and/or by peer evaluation.
  • Lesson design experiences also introduce the students to teaching resources (on the Internet, in the library, etc.) in the content area that they can use in the future.
  • Simply taking the time to talk to children about their ideas in science can be enlightening to many pre-service elementary teachers. We have found the many pre-service teachers are unaware of what children already know about topics in earth science, and are surprised at the depth of knowledge children already have.

When and Where might this be useful?

This kind of learning experience can be incorporated in a variety of settings. The courses highlighted here include large lecture/lab classes, as well as small inquiry-based lab classes. The experiences can be implemented in labs or as out-of-class assignments. The lessons designed can be full-scale, or small 5-minute mini-lessons.

Structuring the Experience

  • Provide some concise but powerful learning theory background. Explain why you are expecting inquiry-based lessons. (See NRC, 2000 .)
  • Provide appropriate prior experiences. In order for students to successfully design and teach inquiry-based science lessons, they must first thoroughly experience the other side of the equation: learning content by working through inquiry-based lessons. Have them do as you do. Don't do one thing and ask them to do another.
  • Constrain the types of content you expect the students to teach.
    • concepts vs. factoids
    • addresses specific state/national standards
    • spell out a format for any written materials to be turned in
  • Set clear guidelines and expectations. Use inquiry based lessons that the students have completed as concrete examples of excellent lessons.
    Example Rubrics:
    • Heather's rubric
    • Barry's rubric
    • Ann's rubric
    • Elizabeth's rubric
  • Managing group dynamics. It is often best to have students work in groups to design these lessons. Groups come up with a greater variety of creative ideas. Disincentives for social loafing are essential. Students can rate the quality of each others' efforts. Projects can be divided into one-person chunks with clear authorship.

Presentation Options

Pre-Service Teachers in K-12 Classrooms

Pre-service teachers can perform their lessons in front of elementary school students.

K-12 Students on Campus

Elementary school students can be brought to the campus where the pre-service teachers can perform their lessons.

Peer Teaching by Pre-Service Teachers

Lessons can be presented by pre-service teachers to their classmates instead of to K-12 school children.

Informal Teaching Experiences

Most pre-service teachers have some interaction with elementary children, either as part of their early teacher preparation or in their personal lives (own children or extended family, community volunteering, neighbors). These children can serve as informal resources for finding out prior knowledge and testing lesson ideas.

Challenges and Suggestions

  • Student presentations and lesson design-related discussions take time. This may result in less content covered during the semester or less time spent on each topic.
    Suggestion: Content is built into the lessons. Lessons may be directly related to content covered in the course, or students can select content not explicitly covered in the course. Students should be held accountable for demonstrating understanding of content. Actually teaching the lesson with children or peers can help students to appreciate that depth of content knowledge is an important aspect of teaching.
  • Instructor should spend some time/effort learning about dynamics of group projects.
    Suggestions: Literature on group learning: Barry's worksheets.
    Classroom Setup
    Small Group Teaching Strategies
  • Instructor should spend some time/effort familiarizing themselves with the language of science methods courses/pedagogical techniques.
    Suggestion: Many geoscience content specialists may feel that they do not "speak the language" of education. What is a rubric? What do we mean by learning outcomes? What is formative assessment. A working knowledge of K-12 teaching methods may help to alleviate this concern. Some resources for becoming familiar with commonly used teaching methods can be found at Starting Point: Teaching Introductory Geoscience.
  • Instructor may need to establish relationships with local schools. In some cases this may be in conflict with (compete with?) placement procedures for the student teaching by education faculty.
    Suggestion: Bringing pre-service teachers into the classroom, or children into the university, requires a good relationship with local schools. Suggestions for forming connections with local schools include: working with former students that you have placed, volunteering as a judge for local science fairs, or meeting with the science coordinators at public school districts in your area (be sure to check with your Education Program first.)
  • Pre-service students benefit from clear expectations and guidelines.
    Suggestion: Students need to know what will be required of them and how they will be evaluated. Establishing outcomes and using grading rubrics can help.