Earth Science Mini-Lessons: A Service-Learning Strategy for Improving Attitudes toward Science of Preservice Elementary Teachers

Article excerpt


Science instruction in elementary school classrooms is frequently lacking in the United States. One factor that impacts the amount and quality of science instruction is teacher attitudes toward science. The Earth Science Mini-Lesson Project is a strategic program created to help improve preservice elementary school teachers' attitudes toward science in a one-semester college class. Students participating in this project create earth science mini-lessons on topics taken from the Utah Core Curriculum Standards and teach them to elementary students at a local Title I grade school. Attitude survey results from both semesters showed that this service-learning outreach program positively affected students' attitudes after minor adjustments to the project organization. This is a simple, inexpensive, yet effective, project that can be implemented in a one-semester college science course for preservice elementary teachers that can help improve their attitudes toward science.


Science is often poorly taught or neglected altogether in U.S. elementary schools (Abell and Roth, 1994; Manner, 1998), even though school boards and administrators voice their support for its inclusion in the curriculum. Science teaching reform efforts (NRC, 1996; NSF, 1997) are being made on the elementary curriculum level and core requirements may be increased through legislation (NCLB, 2001), but the effects of these efforts will be diluted if teachers do not teach the material. Teachers emphasize subjects they both understand and enjoy (Westerback, 1982,1984). Many studies have shown that the cure for poor science instruction is not simply more content knowledge among teachers; attitudes of the teachers toward science must also be improved (Dobey and Schafer, 1984; Kobolla and Crawley, 1985; Mestre, 1991). Additionally, poor teacher attitudes can negatively influence the attitudes toward science of their students (Greenblatt, 1962; Haladyna and Schaugnessy, 1982; Kahle, 1984; Stollberg, 1969). This influence can be pivotal, since many young students decide whether they like science before they leave elementary school (Kahle, 1996; Roth and McGinn, 1998).

If an intervention can be made to affect teacher attitudes toward science, the ideal time to attempt a change of attitude is at the university level where they take classes as large cohorts, but the window of opportunity is small. Preservice elementary teachers typically must complete 2-4 semesters of science courses (Lusk et al. 2006), and these classes will most likely be their last exposure to natural science before they begin teaching (Hannula, 2003). However, steps can be taken in these few courses to encourage positive attitudes toward science for the next generation of elementary education teachers.

Preservice teacher attitudes toward science can be influenced by positive experiences in high school and university science courses (Cantrell et al., 2003; Ginns and Watters, 1996). Generally, students entering these courses view science as an established group of facts that must be tortuously memorized and then regurgitated on exams (Havholm, 1998; Slater et al., 1999; Tewksbury, 1998; Yager, 2000). They do not view science as part of their everyday lives and feel alienated from it (Coburn and Loving, 2002; Dworkin, 2001; Holton, 1994). To change such attitudes in a university setting, professors must include hands-on, stimulating, non-threatening experiences in their courses (Rischbieter et al., 1993; Slater et al., 1999; Westerback and Long, 1990), which can seem a daunting task to a classically trained scientist. The enhancement must be simple and inexpensive to implement, yet effective. However, many professors have discovered creative ways to expose students to positive science experiences in their required science courses, thus enhancing attitudes and learning.

Some professors have found success by changing the traditional teaching methods and enhancing positive science experiences in their elementary education science methods courses. …


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