Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Design, Implementation, and Assessment of an Earth Systems Science Course for Secondary Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Design, Implementation, and Assessment of an Earth Systems Science Course for Secondary Teachers

Article excerpt


In the fall of 2002 the University of Maine's Department of Earth Sciences piloted an innovative course for secondary science teachers. The course integrated instruction in curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, and educational research, and earth systems science (ESS) content. The course met once each week for three hours during the fall semester. The first hour each week was used for the review and content enrichment of an ESS topic. During the second hour, the ESS topic provided the context for knowledge and skill development associated with one of the targeted instructional practices. The third hour each week continued to use the ESS topic for context and was used to create materials or practice skills associated with instructing or assessing the ESS topic in secondary classrooms.

Data concerning student knowledge, attitudes, and instructional practices were collected using assessments created specifically for the course. Analyses of both quantitative and qualitative data indicate that the course strengthened participant understanding of the targeted scientific concepts and that the participants understood and could apply and implement the instructional concepts. The course was valuable to the participants and instructors and is a model that may be transferable to other disciplines.


The University of Maine has responded to recent recommendations for the education and professional development of secondary science and mathematics teachers (NRC, 1995) by instituting a new Master of Science in Teaching (MST) program. This program, offered through the Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research (the Center), benefits (1) teachers who would like to strengthen their knowledge of the subjects they teach while earning a Master's Degree, (2) recent graduates who have majored in mathematics, science, or engineering and are interested in pursuing a career in middle or secondary teaching, and (3) established scientists, engineers, or mathematicians who are interested in making a career change into secondary teaching.

Core courses in the MST utilize and demonstrate the value of findings from education research in the instruction of innovative science pedagogies. These courses, rich in discipline-specific content and research-based pedagogies, are offered in mathematics and science departments at the University of Maine. The "Earth Systems Science for secondary Teachers" course was designed to be one of these core courses and is offered through the Department of Earth Sciences.


Background Information - The vision of the course was initially shaped by a document created by the Maine Mathematics and Science Teaching Excellence Collaborative (MMSTEC, 2000) outlining the major attributes of effective classrooms. The course would be designed to exemplify and teach these attributes, and as such would be characterized as: having all students engaged in learning as a community; managing and monitoring student learning frequently and purposefully; focusing on fundamental concepts in the Earth Sciences and the relationships among them; and emphasizing pedagogical procedures specific to teaching science.

To this end, research-based strategies would be modeled to help the students in the course (herein called "participants") develop the knowledge and skills necessary to answer important instructional questions. Examples of these instructional questions included:

* How does one decide what concepts to teach and how does one prioritize them? (Curriculum Design)

* How are these concepts collected into a coherent program? (Curriculum Design)

* How does one decide how to teach those concepts? (Pedagogy)

* Are the students sufficiently prepared for this program? (Education Research)

* Did the instruction develop the intended student understanding? (Assessment and Education Research)

The Design Process - Two Earth Sciences faculty, Norton and Maasch, and Dr. …

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