Teaching Rocks and Minerals in the Hands on Lab: A Teaching and Learning Experience for Pre-Credential Undergraduates at CSU Chico

Article excerpt


The importance of hands-on activities in learning science at all grade levels has been widely recognized for several decades from the results of a number of studies, including: 1. the development of constructivist learning theory (e.g. Piaget, 1967), 2. the introduction of process-based approaches to science education (AAAS) and 3. the development of "discovery lessons" by the Science Improvement Study (SCIS) at UC Berkeley (e.g. Gagne 1966; Cole, 1991). Each approach has supported the merits of hands on learning in the sciences. However, multiple factors act as barriers to the full scale adaptation of hands on activities in classroom science lessons including: limited funds for materials, lack of experiences in teacher training and professional development programs, and limited adoption choices for quality resources such as textbooks and kit based instructional materials (Cole, 1991).

Across the disciplines of mathematics and science, widespread attention has been paid to the need for high quality training for pre-service teachers (e.g. Cooney, 994; Weiss, 1995; Frykholm, 1999), particularly in the implementation of new teaching strategies. For instance, Brown and colleagues (1990) cite the need to shift focus to place greater attention on pre-service teacher training, which we agree is particularly important given reports that some in-service teachers who serve as mentors to young teachers resist implementing reform based pedagogy (e.g. in mathematics, Frykholm, 1999), and given the tendency for pre-service teachers to "revert to teaching styles similar to those their own teachers used" (Brown, et al., 1990).

Early teaching experiences for pre-service teachers have been shown to empower students to have confidence to teach, help them clarify their decision to become teachers (or not), and give them improved attitudes towards subsequent coursework (e.g. Cooney, 1994; Weiss, 1995; Frykholm, 1999, LaMaster, 2001). Similarly, early teaching experiences that include service learning has been shown to promote improved attitude in pre-service teachers (e.g. LaMaster et at, 2001) as have programs that use inquiry-based learning environments to train pre-service teachers (e.g. Plevyak et al., 2007), both of which are components of the Hands On Lab (HOL) training for pre-service science teachers.


Previous research, state, and national standards have documented the need for pre-service teaching experiences for students interested in secondary mathematics and sciences (e.g. Papick, et al, 1999, Oh, et al., 2005). Additional work has indicated that early career science teachers often find short comings in their preparation in areas such as classroom management, content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and cite a "gap" between their university preparation and professional practices (e.g. Gustafson et al., 2002; Appleton and Kindt, 1999; Mulholland and Wallace, 2000). Even students who demonstrate good content knowledge have reported negative attitudes towards science and science teaching (Tosun, 2000), making a clear case for pre-service teachers to have low-risk, non-threatening teaching experiences early in their preparation. The Internship in Science Teaching course in the HOL provides such experiences for the undergraduate students (referred to as "HOL Interns").

Recognizing the educational importance of hands on science activities as well as common barriers to their implementation in the classroom, a course was developed at California State University, Chico to meet the needs of pre-service teachers. This upper division course, Internship in Science Teaching, is taught in a dedicated laboratory, the HOL, which provides opportunities for undergraduate students to practice teaching hands on, inquiry based science activities to classes of elementary aged students. Classroom teachers bring their students to campus for the science lesson field trip and pre-service teachers learn the art of teaching science to these young students through supervised and structured hands on teaching experiences. …