Overview of A Chemistry Course
for Teachers of the 21st Century


NASA has developed a "Mission to Planet Earth" program that captures their spirit of exploration and focuses it back on the Earth. It is a program that studies "Earth Systems". Objective 2.2 of the MTPE program, as cited in the MTPE Strategic Enterprise Plan, is to "foster the development of an informed and environmentally aware public". One of the education objectives and strategies is to "emphases nationwide pre- service and in-service teacher enhancement programs that enable educators to incorporate Earth Systems concepts into their classrooms."

In 1990, the president and the governors adopted the following as one of six ambitious education goals..."America - GOALS 2000".

"US. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement."

Our project is a product of both the NASA vision and the national goal for American education.

Cal Poly Pomona is part of the largest system of senior higher education in the US, the California State University (CSU) System. The CSU system serves a diverse population of approximately 320,000 students. The Cal Poly Pomona campus has an enrollment of more than 16,000 students within which 24 different ethnicities and cultures were identified( Fall of 1994). Taking four groupings, the demographics reveal African- American 3.4%; Asian 29.4%; Hispanic 19.0%: White 34.1%; Other 14.1%.

Each year at Cal Poly Pomona over one hundred students take our SCI 211 (the Chemical Sciences) which has been designated for the Liberal Studies major whose career goal is teaching. Surveys show that about half these future teachers have not taken a chemistry course before (not even in high school). Their exposure to chemistry - the information, understandings, and the attitudes they will take to children - all stem from this course. Unfortunately, like so many other science courses for non-science majors, the present SCI 211 course does not offer students the kinds of opportunities that allow them to develop a real understanding and appreciation of the concepts and methods of science. Additionally, the present course does not provide the learning environment that could serve as a model of effective science teaching. The curriculum we develop will change this! The new course with its strong underpinning of content will engage student and lead to a deeper, long-lasting understanding and will serve as a model of effective science teaching

The New Modified Course

SCI 211 will be the first course in the undergraduate science program at Cal Poly Pomona to use an approach truly in tune with the national science reform efforts. It will build upon students' previous knowledge, i.e., be constructivist, and use hands-on, learner-centered activities so that students can experience science, and thus more deeply learn important chemical and earth-system principles. Using NASA's earth-systems from MTPE as a focus will bring an intrinsic interest to the course for these students who may have found previous science courses "boring".

Through this course our prospective K-8 teachers will not only be competent in content but also comfortable with teaching science. A focus on the earth and its resources and systems (weather, earthquakes, oceans, etc.) brings a relevance and a framework that provide a degree of comfort and familiarity that can enhance learning.

Course Syllabus

We will develop three investigative units that are based on the NASA concern: PLANET EARTH SYSTEMS AND RESOURCES A modular approach will provide a variety of topics for study to better suit the needs of any particular group of students or instructor. Each unit is a three to five week inquiry based learning experience.

Earth Resources and Materials

These concept themes allow us to explore the major content areas of chemistry such as chemical reactions, the structure of matter, stoichiometry, etc.

Example content areas for each theme:

Water Energy
  • Elements and compounds
  • The nature of matter
  • Cycles in nature
  • Pollution
  • Electrochemistry/batteries
  • Measurements
  • Solubility/solutions
  • Chemical reactions and equations
  • Stoichiometry
  • Chemical reactions and equations
  • Heat and temperature
  • Greenhouse effect
  • Pollution
  • Structure of matter
  • Concentration terms
  • Atomic structure
  • Nuclear Power
  • Stoichiometry
  • Thermochemistry
  • Hydrocarbon chemistry
Earth Resources and Materials  
  • Organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Polymer chemistry
  • Medicines/Drugs...
  • Household chemicals
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Acid/base chemistry

Integrated throughout all these concepts are the overriding theme of Earth systems and resources. With every topic there will be issues of who and what people were involved in the production and development of information and concepts and how these findings affected people. In addition, there will be attention to how these concepts impact our environment and our understanding of environmental issues. At the close of each unit there will be a class newsletter or report that will share and integrate information under the theme of "Planet Earth Systems and Resources".

Innovative Instruction

The SCI 211 course is based on the fundamental belief that the most effective learning occurs through inquiry based, learner-centered, and constructivist investigations. The learning experiences will be developed by a team of university chemistry faculty, practicing teachers, graduate students in education, and undergraduate students. The experiences will provide students with a solid base of knowledge and understanding. They will also be models of teaching and learning from which our students may draw upon when they assume their roles as facilitators in the K-8 science classroom. For these students, we certainly will seek to offer science in ways that they will be expected to share with their students.

Cooperative learning, for example, is a vehicle through which each student can bring their own knowledge and experience to the problems being studied. Research indicates that deeper learning occurs when students learn with each other, rather than by competing with each other. (Gabel, p 79) "...the more traditional ways of teaching science may not be as effective with underrepresented groups in science as are some of the active, relational, and holistic approaches". (Gabel, p 563)

We believe that "traditional" assessment tools can be enhanced and complimented to develop a broad, comprehensive picture of a student's overall learning. A variety of assessments will be used: portfolios, presentations, research papers, as well as traditional examinations. Portfolios will be the major assessment tool because they are learner- centered and constructivist by their very nature, since students organize, structure, and critique their own learning. The portfolio is a multi-modal assessment and record of student growth and learning.

A wide variety of instructional techniques will be employed in this project. Students will participate in projects, field trips, laboratory investigations, simulations, cooperative learning, community and school involvement experiences. Students will share their understandings of concepts with young children through activities and projects in after- school science clubs. They will interact with guest speakers and will also communicate and discuss their work using E-mail, electronic bulletin boards, and a class newsletter.

We are fortunate to be within driving distance to JPL which has an education center with vast resources and access to scientific personnel.

The "laboratory" will encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, environments, and equipment. Students will be gathering data in the "field" as well as in a conventional laboratory setting. Portable, hand-held field type equipment such as pH meters, spectrophotometers, digital titrators, and application designed kits for water analysis, etc... will be available to the students. On site investigations and information gathering using portable devices will help students understand the importance of sampling techniques and errors, and how these can offset the reliability of the data collected. Where should the water samples, for example, be best collected from? Does the time of day make a difference?

Sample Lesson

In this course each investigation will begin with either a project scenario, hands-on activity, a demonstration, a provocative speaker, video or excerpt from a newspaper or news magazine. The students will then work in cooperative groups to develop questions, to learn about specific chemical principles, to gather data and finally to come to an understanding of concepts and issues.

For example, under the Water unit students might begin with the following mock reprint of an article from a local newspaper:

Cal Poly Pomona. Dr. Bob Suzuki, President of Cal Poly Pomona, has just announced that he will be developing a plan to convert the Duck Pond to a potable water source in the event of an emergency that would result in the total isolation of the Cal Poly Pomona campus. Dr. Suzuki is asking all engineering firms in the area to submit bids for this project.

Students will be asked to work in groups to study the feasibility of this undertaking. They will investigate the procedures necessary for water analysis and purification, such as Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), pH, total salinity, total alkalinity, total water hardness, nitrate analysis, heavy metal analysis, and chlorination. They will access the intenet for useful information like the GLOBE page.

Students will go to the duck pond and gather data using pH paper, portable pH meters, portable spectrophotometers, and CBL (Calculator Based Laboratory) systems. They will also be carrying out titration and purification procedures using filtration columns.

After this project, students would investigate issues of rainfall, runoff, water recycling, acid rain, evaporation rates, water cycle, personal water requirements and individual city water quality reports.

Technology Integration

Because "technology allows for increased hands-on, interactive learning", (from: Overriding Principles and Objectives, MTPE Education Strategy), it will be a priority in this course. Students will use the CBL system which allows them to gather data, retrieve it directly into calculators, and then to generate graphs and analyze results anytime and anywhere. Students will learn how to access NASA's earth systems data over the internet, and how to integrate this into their teaching and learning of science. This use of technology "opens doors for more discovery and research for students. It allows students to become more involved in everyday experiences and apply those experiences to experimental design". (Forkey, March 1996)

For this course, therefore, the chemistry stockroom will provide a "Materials and Equipment Checkout Center" from which students may get any of the portable field-type equipment they need for data gathering in the "field".

Students in this course, through this large variety of laboratory environments, data collection tools, and activities, will have realistic, hands-on experiences in both chemistry and technology. Thus, when they become teachers, they will be better able to more accurately convey to their K-8 students chemical concepts as well as the excitement and methodology of carrying out chemical investigations. Because of their own experiences in SCI 211, these future teachers will also have the confidence and ability to begin to develop more open-ended, hands-on, and inquiry-based experiences in science for their own students.

Collaborative Efforts

We believe that the development of this course requires the participation of university faculty, practicing teachers, graduate students in education and undergraduate students with teaching as there career goal.

"the strongest programs result from collaborations among teachers, developers (such as university faculty science education coordinators and teachers), and other stakeholders (including community agencies, science and mathematics enrichment centers, scientists, school administrators, and business and industry)"
- National Science Education Standards

We hope, along with other NOVA projects, to provide the state, and the nation, with a model of professional development for teachers in science and mathematics that is based on the national standards.

K-12 Teacher Input and Student Involvement

The plan is for the NOVA team to develop the course working together with teachers, graduate students and undergraduate students. Our NOVA team includes the chemistry faculty in charge of the SCI 211 course, the chair of the Department of Teacher Education , and an instructor of science education in the department of education. This team will work with two elementary school teachers, one middle school teacher, two graduate students in education, and a group of undergraduate students.

We value the insights of teachers and students in the production of a really effective course. We seek contributions from undergraduates who have taken the traditional course within the past two years, and students who have yet to take the course. Practicing teachers, with their knowledge of what is needed for elementary school teaching, can provide guidance. There will be regular meetings. Undergraduate students will be recommending projects and testing investigation activities. Graduate students will be assisting undergraduate students in investigations, and evaluating the effectiveness of activities. Teachers will be recommending and validating course design and activities.

Ties to Public Schools

We intend to set up science clubs at two local elementary schools as an integral part of this course to support our students' learning, thinking, and construction of knowledge. We have already learned from some pilot experiences with schools. For example Dr. Burke has conducted a letter exchange program between college chemistry classes and middle school children. Dr. Walton has set up and managed science clubs at both elementary and middle schools. Elementary schools are eager for this, and the present laboratory portion of the SCI 211 course already meets 3:00 - 6:00 PM which allows for easy participation in after-school programs.

College students will have the opportunity to share their knowledge and to hear and respond to questions about that knowledge. They will design activities to share their appreciation of science with the children. The science clubs' students may, for example, participate in activities similar to the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment). This will get elementary school students excited about science and about learning. The undergraduate students will be new role models. The activities will aid the school teacher in doing more hands-on and inquiry based teaching activities. All involved will become more comfortable in their role as science teachers using these new visions. Each school science club will have an on site teacher and a number of the SCI 211 students.