It's Time to Stand Up for Earth Science

By Schaffer, Dane L. | Journal of Geoscience Education, November 2012 | Go to article overview

It's Time to Stand Up for Earth Science


Schaffer, Dane L., Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

This commentary paper focuses upon the loss of respect for Earth Sciences on the part of many school districts across the United States. Too many Earth Science teachers are uncertified to teach Earth Science, or hold certificates to teach the subject merely because they took a test. The Earth Sciences have faced this problem for many years (Nuhfer, 1990). In 1996, the National Science Education Standards (National Resource Council) put Earth Science on equal footing with both the life and physical sciences, but after middle school, many high school students do not even have a chance to take an Earth Science course because their schools do not deem Earth Science as worthy or even as a necessary science. This is echoed by many colleges and universities when they do not accept Earth Science as a science unit for entrance. This must change! With the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2012) on the horizon, educators from kindergarten to the university level must make a strategic effort to put Earth Science back up upon a pedestal with sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics - not just in a few states, but in all states! © 2022 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/11-264.1]

Key words: Earth Science, literacy, Earth System Science

INTRODUCTION

Not too many years ago when I was teaching in a large urban district, my principal told me that one of my senior students was not accepted to a major university to study engineering because he had taken Earth Science as one of his four science courses during his high school career. The principal asked me to help convince university officials that my Earth Science class was not remedial, but was as rigorous as courses in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Although it took about six weeks into the summer, I finally was able to convince the university that my course was indeed on a par with the other three courses. How? I showed them my curriculum, the class objectives, and the lab activities that went into completing my course. Moreover, to appease the university officials, the principal and the school district decided to change the name of my course to "Advance Earth Science." By doing this, we were able to change the student's transcript, and subsequently he was accepted into the university's engineering program, with a full scholarship no less. I kept asking myself: "Why were university officials eager to accept Advance Earth Science, but not Earth Science?"

The answer has to do with respect. Somehow, in the past few decades, Earth Science has become a subject that administrators and educators deem to be a remedial science class. A recent report funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and their Office of Education stated that "[w]hile Earth science concepts are taught throughout K-12 education, these learning experiences are often considered of less rigor and substance than other domains of science" (Hoffman and Barstow, 2007, p. 5). What many consider to be simple and easy for students to learn in fact requires careful planning of the content and instructional activities by the teacher and knowledge of how their students' learn this content. This planning changes from class to class and from year to year. This is particularly true at the college and high school levels. In many U.S. high schools, counselors put students into Earth Science classes if the students are performing at a low academic level or if they need an "easy" credit for graduation. As a high school science teacher and curriculum writer for over twenty years, I have seen school districts not offer Earth Science because of its remedial status. They instead offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses in biology and chemistry or other advanced-level courses to their students rather than the AP geology class that has been available since early 2000. By having high schools do this, many students see the Earth Sciences as not important. …

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