Future Science Teachers Receive Lessons in Hands-on Learning

NMU education majors are using a hands-on approach to studying the Lake Superior watershed. Greg Coverdale (Education) is giving them a taste of inquiry-based learning in the hope that they will adopt a similar strategy as future K-8 science teachers. Guided by the theme “Great Lakes in Our World,” his science methods class has participated in a variety of outdoor projects this semester.


Students are assessing the impact of power plants and paper mills on water quality; comparing mercury levels in Deer Lake and Teal Lake; and analyzing differences in water quality between inland lakes and Lake Michigan. They are also studying other region-specific environmental issues related to forestry and wolves.


“My job is to light the fire – to show them that science learning is important, that it’s connected to the real world and that our country needs to become science literate,” Coverdale said. “Teachers are under pressure to prepare students for tests so there’s a tendency to over-prescribe the written curriculum and depend too heavily on textbooks. I’m trying to demonstrate the value of experiential learning. It may cover less material, but it’s more thorough. The focus is on understanding relevant concepts rather than short-term memorization.”


In surveys, students often cite the pristine natural environment in Marquette as one of the top reasons they chose to attend NMU. Coverdale is trying to maximize that asset by using the outdoors as a learning laboratory. Students in his class are issued toolboxes loaded with equipment such as Vernier handheld computers, GPS units and electronic probes so they can collect data at any time and upload it on their notebook computers.


“Asking questions about what’s going on in our back yard – literally – and finding the answers through hands-on activities makes the curriculum more relevant,” he said. “Students comprehend better and remember more by doing. It’s been found that students who take environmental courses do better on standardized tests. Unfortunately, people tend to teach the way they’re taught and that has perpetuated didactic style teaching.We intend to assist our novice teachers in being confident to teach inquiry-based science. Experiential learning hasn’t taken root in schools on a widespread basis because most teachers weren’t shown how to facilitate it.”


Coverdale, who is in his first year at NMU, also encourages future teachers to adopt a global perspective. He developed his own through 20 years of overseas teaching experience in five countries, including Peru, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Photos in this article were provided by Greg Coverdale.


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Updated: November 13, 2006

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