Using Scenarios and Problem Statements to Structure an Earth Systems Course for Pre-Service Teachers

Rebecca Teed. Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wright State University, Dayton Ohio 45435

EES 345 (Earth Systems) is a required course for pre-service middle-school science teachers at Wright State taught over a ten-week quarter. I originally used the modules and format for the middle-school-teachers’ ESSEA course, but ran into several problems. The first was using jigsaw with only 20 meetings in a quarter and moderate student absenteeism. The second was that students did not incorporate sphere-study techniques into their better lesson plans. Finally, sphere and event reports on some of the more classic ESSEA modules are readily available on the web, making it hard to keep student research from turning into plagiarism.

So I rewrote some of the ESSEA modules as brief scenarios, containing brief descriptions and keywords of events, and simplified the high-school-teachers’ ESSEA rubrics to extend the cooperative and critical-thinking skills needed to do research. Each unit, the pre-service teachers develop a Plan of Study culminating in a Problem Statement, and then give a presentation based on their findings. The Problem Statement defined by the ESSEA high-school course rubric requires students to work cooperatively and to think deeply on the topic. Our students had become experts in previous classes at parceling out subtopics to group members and suturing the contributions together as a general survey on the topic. I wanted them to actually making joint decisions and edit each other’s prose.

The course has been run this way three times, and the problem statements have all been unique. They tend to grow more sophisticated over the quarter, beginning with possible hazards associated with the continuing eruption of Mount Kilauea, for example, to evidence for intelligence in the tiny ice-age hominids of Indonesia (Homo florensis), and our changing understanding of Proterozoic reef dwellers.

By the final unit, students are very familiar with the rubrics, but it is the end of the quarter, and they are tired and distracted. So the scenario for the last unit has them plan to go back in time to rescue an extinct creature for a zoo or aquarium. This Prehistoric Park unit offers an opportunity for creativity, and students usually incorporate their sources in a more critical way, emphasizing how we know what we know about the past.