Content Is Not Enough: A History of Secondary Earth Science Teacher Preparation with Recommendations for Today

By Lewis, Elizabeth B. | Journal of Geoscience Education, November 2008 | Go to article overview
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Content Is Not Enough: A History of Secondary Earth Science Teacher Preparation with Recommendations for Today

Lewis, Elizabeth B., Journal of Geoscience Education


Secondary geoscience education has its roots in geography and physiographic education from the turn of the 20th century. High school Earth science reached a peak during the late 1960s and 1970s, after plate tectonic theory revolutionized geology. The production of Earth science teachers, unlike biology teachers, has never reached full capacity, which has likely contributed to the lesser presence and status of Earth and space science in U.S. high schools today. Historically, the geoscience community has focused on enriching teachers' geoscience content knowledge, but modern Earth and space science teachers need more than just content knowledge.

Based on current science education research, today's Earth and space science teacher education programs should also include: a) science methods that embrace authentic inquiry and state-of-the-art technology and visualization resources, b) an exploration of formative assessment and how to modify instruction to meet students' learning needs, c) awareness of common misconceptions and strategies to affect conceptual change, and d) how to establish scientific classroom discourse communities to promote scientific literacy. However, geoscience education researchers should prioritize investigations of Earth and space science teacher preparation programs as very little is known about the relationship between such programs, teacher implementation, and student learning.


In the last century the purpose of science education has changed greatly because of various social and political priorities. Those commissioned to study science education and all aspects relating to it, including science teacher preparation, have offered many criticisms and recommendations for reform. From the beginning of the 20th century in the United States there was much criticism of science teachers in general, which focused on teachers' lack of scientific knowledge arising from insufficient scientific study in colleges and universities (National Society for the Study of Education, 1932). As a result, many early recommendations for the preparation of science teachers centered on the depth and breadth of required science content courses as opposed to pedagogical strategies.

While geology is not by any means a new science, it was formalized in American public schools after other sciences and historically has had to fight for equal status among its sister sciences (Dodick and Orion, 2003a). Additionally, research in science education, science teacher education, and professional development is relatively new to educational research (Lieberman, 1992). Unfortunately, geoscience education, and subsequent research, has lagged behind other science domains as it was never considered to be a critical part of the curriculum alongside life and physical sciences until the 1960s. Secondary Earth science education is not even mentioned, with the exception of general reference to the teaching of geography or physiography, in either the 31st (1932) or 46th (1947) Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Thus, the community faces a compounded challenge that other academic disciplines, and even other sciences, do not.

How to best educate teachers is a perennial debate and the preparation of Earth and space science teachers is no exception. However, in order to critique our past and move effectively forward we require a synthesis of how we have approached the challenge of producing enough high-quality Earth science teachers. There have been very few studies on this matter and volumes that synthesize American science education (Robinson, 1968; Hurd, 1969; DeBoer, 1991; Akin and Black; 2003) lack substantial insights into geoscience teacher education. Through combing the research literature, I have connected historical snapshots to show how the geoscience and education communities have grappled with Earth and space science preservice teacher program design and professional development throughout the 20th century.

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Content Is Not Enough: A History of Secondary Earth Science Teacher Preparation with Recommendations for Today


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