INQUIRY- AND PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING APPROACHES IN AN INTEGRATED SCIENCE CONTENT AND METHODS COURSE FOR ELEMENTARY EDUCATION MAJORS: SCIENCE SEMESTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE
In the Science Semester during the second semester of their sophomore year, 60 elementary teacher education majors enroll in a 15-credit sequence that consists of three science content courses (Earth, Life, and Physical Science) and a science teaching methods course. In the sequence, traditional subject matter boundaries are crossed to stress shared themes that teachers must understand to teach standards-based elementary science. Exemplary approaches that support both learning science and learning how to teach science are used. Students work collaboratively on multidisciplinary problem-based learning (PBL) activities that place science concepts in authentic contexts and build learning skills. Lecture meetings are large group active learning sessions that help students understand difficult concepts, make connections between class activities, and launch and wrap-up PBL problems. Labs include hands-on activities associated with the PBL problems and some are designed through the inclusion of science teaching kits to demonstrate the continuity of science concepts and pedagogies across age levels. In the methods course, students critically explore the theory and practice of elementary science teaching, drawing on their shared experiences of inquiry learning in the science courses.
One example of a PBL activity that stresses shared themes is Kids, Chemicals, and Cancer in which the occurrence of a cancer cluster in Toms River, New Jersey is investigated. The reality of the investigation is strengthened by having one of the families directly involved share their experiences with the students. Within the context of this problem, various topics addressed include: the DNA structure of cells, cancer, linkages between the environment and incidence of cancer, weathering, soil, sediments, the hydrologic cycle, groundwater, elements, compounds, and the physical properties of chemical compounds.