Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Urban Earth Science in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Urban Earth Science in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Article excerpt


Earth science topics are always in the news and are ever present in our life. Yet earth science is frequently given poor or uninviting coverage in K-12 schools because of lack of expertise and/or for an apparent lack of local importance. With this in mind, individuals from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UWM), the Urban Tree House Project (UTH) and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have collaborated to provide earth science materials for pre-service and in-service teachers that center on the earth science resources of Southeastern Wisconsin. These include field guides to local parks (particularly the Lake Michigan shoreline), web based virtual field trips, instructional videos, information on the local geologic environments and soils studies.

The collaboration allows for similar instructional strategies and content presentation for both in-service and pre-service teachers through programs sponsored by UWM. The collaboration is being well received by all the stakeholders involved. The MPS teachers are energized by the newly discovered resources in their own urban backyard. MPS students are exposed to real-life applications of earth science. Pre-service teaching students appreciate the field experiences they have in class and the connection to MPS curriculum standards that helps make the learning experiences more meaningful.


National, and state education standards recommend the inclusion of earth science as a core subject in schools K-12 (National Research Council, 1996; Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1998). These standards are supported by most school districts including the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) which promotes the learning of earth science content through their K-8 Science Learning and Content Standards (Milwaukee Public Schools, 1998). In Wisconsin and specifically, in the Milwaukee area, most teachers of grades K-8 tend to be generalists who teach many school subjects including the required science disciplines (earth, space, life and physical). Teaching an integrative discipline such as earth science can be a means to cover many science topics. Yet, teaching earth science can also be a demanding experience for urban educators (Young and Simmons, 1992).

MPS is a large urban school district with over 100,000 K-12 students and a teaching staff of 9000. At the elementary level there are 4500 teachers in 118 schools. Within such a large school district it is not surprising that many of teachers may be under prepared to teach science when requested to do so. King, Shumow and lietz (2001) recognized this as a common problem in urban settings. When educators are faced with the prospect of teaching a subject for which they have limited knowledge they tend to rely on the textbook to guide their teaching (Levitt and Manner, 2001; Keididou and Roseman, 2002).

Unfortunately textbook coverage rarely provides the depth and incite needed to truly engage the student. For example, Keididou and Roseman (2002) found that most middle school science texts' coverage of some topics are at a superficial level and are not focused on the key ideas related to earth science processes. They indicate that most middle school science programs' texts, "...lack coherent explanations of real world phenomena using key science ideas.. .and provide limited help for teachers to scaffold students attempts to make sense of phenomena and ideas" (p. 583).

Most urban teachers are not aware of the myriad of ways that local geology and climate can be used as an effective context for the delivery of earth science topics (Kean and Enochs 2001). The idea of using the local or community setting, as the context for teaching earth science is not new. This focus is reflected in the newly developed American Geological Institutes' "Earth System Science in the Community" (EarthComm) and "Integrating Earth Systems"(IES) curriculum. Systems and community based curriculums like EarthComm and IES expand the student's learning environment and provide field based projects that focus on local geosciences issues (Childress, 2003). …

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