In 2003, the Ohio Department of Education developed the Academic Content Standards for K-12 science, just as the state's K-12 schools were gearing up for a new high school graduation requirement: the successful passing of a high-stakes Ohio Graduation Test during a student's 10th-grade year. Earth and space science questions make up approximately one third of the science test items. To make it more likely that teachers have the requisite science content knowledge, Ohio has recently changed from certification of K-12 teachers to a more content-rich licensure standard, which splits the older K-8 certification into the elementary and middle-school licensure areas. Under the new licensure requirements, middle-school licensure candidates wishing to earn a science concentration must now take 15 semester hours of content class work in science. The Ohio Department of Education has advised teacher-preparation institutions to develop new courses for middle school educators in all areas of concentration, including science. This is necessary because in many Ohio schools, middle-school teachers play a key role in delivering the content necessary for the Ohio Graduation Test.
Earth Systems is an Earth science course intended expressly for pre-service middle-school (grades 4-9) science teachers. The content is built around three modules that develop interdisciplinary science understanding in the context of past, present and future Earth Systems science. First, the students work cooperatively to research and explain the effects of a volcanic eruption on the Earth system and the long-term feedbacks within the Earth system itself. The groups are set up in a jigsaw format: each sphere teams studies the immediate effects of the eruption on one part of the Earth system, such as the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, or geosphere. Then new teams are assembled, taking one student from each “sphere” team to create a diverse group which can build on the work of all the sphere teams. The other two modules are similar studies of global warming and the Wisconsinan ice age. The teams produce reports which are graded using a rubric. Individually, students write journals and lesson plans, which are also graded using rubrics. The journals indicate increased content knowledge for most students. Pre- and post-testing show gains in logical thinking.
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