Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Moon Project: Student Research and Lesson Design in an Introductory Geoscience Course for Pre-Service Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Moon Project: Student Research and Lesson Design in an Introductory Geoscience Course for Pre-Service Teachers

Article excerpt


I have developed a hands-on guided-discovery course for future teachers that includes a semester-long research project about the moon. This project, which is designed to give students the experience of conducting a long-term scientific investigation, requires students to make daily naked-eye observations of the moon and construct graphs of given data (such as moonrise/set times and dates of moon phases) in order to discover and demonstrate a variety of phenomena related to the moon.

Once students have discovered, discussed, and visualized their way to an understanding of various concepts relating to the moon, they develop and teach a hands-on guided-discovery lesson on those concepts to their classmates. Finally, they write a teacher's guide that explains the concepts and could show other teachers how to replicate the lesson.

Assessment of students' understanding of the moon and their self-reported evaluations of the moon project experience demonstrate that, although it is challenging and at times frustrating, it is a unique and valuable educational experience for the students.


At California State University, Chico, a full-scale coordinated effort is underway to reform the delivery of science content knowledge and pedagogy skills to future K-12 teachers of science. In the past year, the College of Natural Sciences has formed a new Science Education Department and hired four new full-time science education faculty members; simultaneously, the College of Communication and Education has hired a new science education specialist. This effort was sparked by smaller successful efforts to improve the science education of pre-service teachers, including the development of the innovative hands-on lab (Heaston, 2006; Mervis, 2007; and, before that, the redesign of Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences, a required course in the Liberal Studies major.

The Liberal Studies program is designed for future elementary school teachers and is the most common major among students entering the multiple-subject (K-8) credential program at CSU Chico. Liberal Studies majors take at least 13 units of science, currently consisting of two biological science courses, one physical science course, the hands-on lab course, and Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences. With the help of an NSF CCLI grant, this course was redesigned, beginning in 1995. Guided by the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and a constructivist philosophy of student learning (Brooks and Brooks, 1993; Tobin, 1993), the redesigned course is centered on hands-on guided-discovery group activities that aim to overcome student misconceptions and foster deep learning. Since 1995, as I have continued to improve and refine this course, almost 3000 students have completed it, including some version of the moon project.


Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences covers fundamental concepts of geology, astronomy and meteorology. In addition to being a required course for Liberal Studies majors, it also meets the earth science requirement for students pursuing teaching credentials in biology, chemistry or physics. Prospective geoscience teachers participate in the course by acting as classroom aids and study session leaders while keeping a teaching journal, participating in a pedagogy course for graduate teaching assistants, and completing all of the homework assignments, quizzes and exams for Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences.

Concepts in Earth and Space Sciences meets three times a week, for one large-enrollment 50-minute lecture (or, if the student so chooses, an on-line lecture) and two small-enrollment two-hour lab sessions. The first seven weeks of the course focus on geology; the next five weeks focus on astronomy, and the last three weeks focus on meteorology. Although the course covers three separate scientific fields, we highlight their common underlying fundamental concepts by emphasizing five recurrent themes: models, flow of energy and matter, convection, changes of state, and apparent motion-the theme most applicable to astronomy in general and the moon in particular. …

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