Field & Natural Science

Dr. Sarah Haines, Professor of Biological Sciences, Towson University

The fundamental goal of this course is to enhance both science content knowledge and pedagogy of preservice elementary/middle level teachers and those pursuing careers in environmental education. An emphasis is placed on applying the concepts of field science and natural history to the education of students in grades 4-9 in both formal and informal settings. You will integrate environmental science concepts into instructional formats and design both in-class and field-based learning experiences.

The course is grounded in sociocultural constructivist model of learning. The basis of this model is such that learning requires active processing of information and critical thinking regarding concepts. In addition, knowledge and understanding, while socially mediated, is constructed individually and not dispensed by the instructor. Your participation in class activities, discussion, and reflection are critical to processing of information; thus, attending class prepared is vital.

Instructor’s Goals:

The fundamental goal of this course is to improve the content knowledge and delivery skills of those who wish to pursue careers teaching in the middle level grades. Additionally, course participants enhance their science literacy concerning environmental topics and how those topics affect the communities a teacher both lives and works in. An emphasis is placed on applying the concepts of field science and natural history to the education of students in grades 4-9. Students integrate natural science concepts into a variety of teaching formats and design learning experiences that combine both in class and field based instruction, emphasizing place-based education and civic engagement.

The course is grounded in sociocultural constructivist model of learning. The basis of this model is such that learning requires active processing of information and critical thinking regarding concepts. In addition, knowledge and understanding, while socially mediated, is constructed individually and not dispensed by the instructor. Activities, discussion, and reflection are critical to the processing of information, and thus, coming to class prepared is vital. Communicating, thinking, and professional participation are emphasized in the evaluation of class assignments and in final course grades.

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Describe indicators (Chemical, Physical, and Biological) of general environmental quality, and describe human impact on general environmental quality.
  2. Describe indicators (Chemical, Physical, and Biological) of aquatic environmental quality, and describe human impact on aquatic environmental quality.
  3. Compare/Contrast the importance and relationships of these indicators to the quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and describe human impact on the watershed.
  4. Collect and catalog existing data regarding a selected indicator of environmental quality.
  5. Use environmental quality data to propose an environmental action project appropriate for a middle level teacher to conduct with students.
  6. Discuss the philosophical and theoretical aspects of place-based education that impact its practice.
  7. Implement an investigation of a local environmental issue and present the results of the investigation.
  8. Plan, organize, and lead an interpretive station at the zoo that is intended to educate the general public.
  9. Create an “educator’s trunk” for the zoo staff that focuses on a particular concept related to zoo education.
  10. Create a field guide that showcases some of the species found in your local area.
  11. Describe ecological indicators of terrestrial and aquatic environmental quality.
  12. Compare and contrast relationships of these indicators to the quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  13. Collect and analyze data through field study on selected indicators of environmental quality.
  14. Explain the philosophical and theoretical aspects of environmental education that impact its practice.
  15. Develop pedagogical content knowledge for teaching environmental science in lab-based and field settings.
  16. Design curricula aligned with MSDE’s K-12 environmental education standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.
  17. Propose an environmental science field trip site appropriate for middle-level age children that focuses on a local environmental civic issue.
  18. Use the 5 E Constructivist Learning Model as a basis for lesson and unit planning.
  19. Discuss implications for teaching and learning of field-based science that impact classroom practice.
  20. Plan and implement a classroom and a field based environmental science lesson appropriate for the grade level you are teaching that focuses on a local environmental civic issue.
  21. Plan and teach an environmental science lesson that integrates children’s literature.
  22. Use one traditional and one alternative assessment mechanism to assess student learning.

Linking Science and Social Issues

  • Environmental literacy history, philosophy, political challenges of implementing in schools taught through course readings and class discussions (primary literature, historical readings, newspaper articles)
  • Biodiversity/loss of biodiversity and urban planning taught through biodiversity field studies
  • Habitat loss taught through schoolyard habitat assessment projects
  • Soil science and impact on water quality taught through soil laboratory and class discussion
  • Watershed science and human impact on water quality taught through permeability studies and Project WET activities
  • Biological stream assessment and human impact taught through series of stream assessments conducted on and near campus
  • Forest ecosystem services and human threats taught through Project Learning Tree classroom activities (PreK-8 guide and secondary guides Forests of the World and Focus on Forests)
  • Wetland ecosystem services and human threats taught through WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands training
  • Schoolyard habitat restoration and action projects taught through schoolyard habitat assessment and final project

The Course

Detailed Overview of Course

Field & Natural Science is a 300-level course taken by middle school education majors and those majoring in environmental science & studies under the informal environmental education track. Field & Natural Science has been taught since 2003 by four different faculty members (although the audience and format have changed some; see Institutional Context below). The course is taught in a pedagogical modeling format, meaning the course instructors deliver the course content by modeling pedagogical methods that they would expect the students to follow when they become teachers. The course meets once a week for three hours. This format allows enough time for field investigations to be completed on and around campus.

Active learning is expected of all students. Throughout all activities, students work collaboratively to organize concepts and ideas. Students take responsibility for designing their own investigations around driving questions that the instructor poses. Data collection and analysis are completed in small groups. Students actively participate in a variety of field-based investigations and activities taken from Project WILD, Project WET, and Project Learning Tree-K-12 environmental education curricula that emphasize in classroom and outdoor activities promoting content knowledge and awareness of issues surrounding wildlife, water conservation, and plants and trees, respectively. Students learn how to integrate civic engagement and service learning into their classrooms while teaching middle grades students about these topics.

Through schoolyard investigations focusing on water quality, habitat availability, soil science, and human impact, students learn how to conduct a schoolyard habitat assessment with students that will lead to an environmental action project appropriate for middle grades students to complete on school grounds or in their communities. In order to effectively carry out this project, students must master the environmental science behind the action project. They must also know the most appropriate and effective methods of teaching the content and skills to their middle grades students. Thus, the course is a blend of content and pedagogical techniques.

Through reading current primary literature and book chapters regarding science teaching and learning, students learn what some of the current research tells us about the benefits of teaching outdoors and of exposing children to nature and studies of the natural world. Students also learn about some of the criticisms placed on environmental education and how they might be able to avoid those criticisms in their own classrooms.

The conceptual framework for the course is guided by four books: Inside-Out Environmental Science in the Classroom & the Field (2010) covers topics such as using topographic maps to better understand landforms, exploring the physical landscape of a local area, learning how water sustains biological organisms, and discovering the relationship between soil conditions and local flora- employing both field and classroom-based lessons to convey important environmental science concepts. Field Investigations: Using Outdoor Environments to Foster Students Learning of Scientific Processes (2007) was used as a guide to our outdoor field studies. Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (2005) brings together a collection of evidence to support the idea that exposure to nature is essential for a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Ishmael (1992) is a fictional novel that uses many metaphorical examples to describe how humans are impacting our environment. These readings are supplemented with readings from the primary literature. Reader responses/reflections and in-class discussions allow the student to connect what was read with what is learned in the classroom, and to consider the applications to classroom teaching.

Activities

Evaluating Learning

Most of the assessment in this course is from active, field-based learning assignments, pedagogy-based assignments and experiences, and reading reflections that ask the students to think critically about how what they read is connected to classroom teaching and student learning. The final project and class presentation of the project enable students to synthesize all that they have learned in the course and apply their knowledge of content and pedagogy in a unique way.

Assessments

Background and Institutional Context

Field & Natural Science has been offered in various forms for many years at Towson University. Decades ago, the course was offered for biology majors and focused solely on science content and field techniques. Pedagogy was not addressed. When the faculty member teaching the course retired from the university, it was not offered for several years. When I came to Towson University, the science education program began to grow. The number of faculty hired in this area increased, as did student enrollment, followed by course offerings. Field & Natural Science was brought back in a revised form; the course was only available to elementary education majors. The first iteration of this modified version of BIOL 301 was taught in the Fall of 2003. Students enrolled in the course were part of a professional development school in which they took many of their courses off campus in a local school. This course was taught at an outdoor school associated with the local school system. A few years later, this particular professional development school ceased running, as needs and priorities of the College of Education shifted. The course was modified once again, this time as part of Towson University’s new middle school education program. Students majoring in middle school education are required to take this course. Essentially, the organization and topics of the course remained the same, but the content and pedagogical methods were adjusted to reflect the middle school grades instead of an elementary level preservice teacher audience. The course was taught in this format twice at the Towson University Field Station, and four times on campus. The on campus sections of the course have utilized a stream that runs through campus, and the Glen Woods, a wooded area in the central portion of campus.

 

Photograph courtesy of Sarah Haines