Teaching Earth Science Well

Online pilot course takes off

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Thanks to a $48,000 grant from the AAPG Foundation, 17 teachers from across the country recently completed an online pilot course on “Teaching Earth Science at the High School Level,” which is expected to expand to help meet a growing national need in geoscience education.

“It’s designed to make sure that earth science, in the states where it’s taught at the high school level, is taught really well,” said Rebecca Dodge, AAPG Member and associate professor of geosciences at Midwestern State University in Texas.

Dodge developed and taught it, having adapted the five-week online course from a previous five-day course she developed and taught for two years through the American College of Education.

“When I came here to Midwestern State University, I knew they were going to start teaching earth science at the high school level, and I asked around in the school districts here, ’Who’s going to teach this high school earth science class?’ and everybody was saying, ’Oh God, I hope it’s not me,’” she related.

“So I thought, ’They hoped that because they don’t have the foundational skills – they don’t have the basic earth science concepts, so I developed the class and I offered it here in Wichita Falls with funding from the North Texas Geological Society. They gave scholarships for teachers to come take it in a five-day, weeklong eight-hour workshop.”

The course caught the notice of the American Geosciences Institute, which sent a proposal to the AAPG Foundation asking for scholarships to support teachers wanting to obtain the fundamentals needed to teach to a high school audience.

“This is why this course was designed: In many states, they don’t certify high school earth science teachers. You can get a broad field certification that says you should be able to teach earth science, or you can get certified in chemistry or biology, but not in earth science,” Dodge explained.

“So, two years ago when they started teaching earth science at the high school level, who was teaching it? People like… the coach who teaches chemistry or, in most cases, a really good science teacher, but who has no geoscience background at all.

“Somebody who taught biology for 12 years and is an excellent biology teacher, her principal came up to her in May and said, ’Oh, by the way, you’re teaching earth science next fall,’ and of course she said, ’Yes sir,’ and then went home and cried. So, that’s why this course was developed.”

The pilot program ran June 16-July 18 and was hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology.

AGI will be handling the national rollout next year.

“We’re teaching it for the first time this summer. We’ll tweak it and make it better and offer it again next summer and we’ll still have money left to give scholarships,” said Dodge.

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