Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs in Virginia [8 VAC 20 ‑ 542]
Action Comprehensive Revision of the Regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs in
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ends 10/31/2015
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10/27/15  7:32 pm
Commenter: G. Richard Whittecar, Old Dominion University

Earth Science coursework list: Add Geomorphology, remove Structural Geology

I am a geology professor in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University and the advisor for the Earth Science Education students in our Ocean and Earth Science B.S. program. A faculty member for the past 35 years, I now teach a variety of geology courses for our undergraduate program – geomorphology, structural geology, hydrogeology, Quaternary geology, and research methods.  Also, as the CoDirector of the MonarchTeach program, I am the lead faculty member from the College of Sciences working with the College of Education to increase the number of STEM majors who are equipped to teach science or math in secondary schools.  I write as a concerned individual, and do not presume to speak for the University.

I applaud the tone of the new regulations which stress the rigor of understanding that our students must have in their content area.  In the Earth Science recommendations for secondary schools (8VAC20-542-4340. Science - Earth science) I support almost all of the changes proposed; these changes help future teachers have the background needed to address the Essential Understandings and Essential Skills presently listed on the Virginia Department of Education website.  I am thus presuming that future lists of Essential Understandings and Essential Skills will be very similar.

However, the new regulations left a course off of the list of prescribed courses that is absolutely essential for teachers – geomorphology.  The list also contains a course that is only marginally useful to teachers – structural geology.  If we add a single course to the list, it should be geomorphology, NOT structural geology.  Our students need specific background in order to teach the topics in the Standards of Learning ES 7. and ES.8. and they will only get a small part of that information in a structural geology course.  Essential Understandings built upon ES.7 include information about folded and thrust-faulted mountains, subduction zone volcanoes and trenches, mid-ocean ridges, rift valleys, fissure volcanoes, flood lavas, strike-slip faults, earthquake activity, magma, hot spots, faults, and the rock cycle.  A structural geology course would cover many of these topics, a few of them in great detail.  However, the topics covered by SOLs in ES.8. are soil, weathering, karst topography, carbonate rocks, caves, sinkholes, limestone solution acidic groundwater, permeability, waste disposal, pollution, regional watershed systems in Virginia, and the state’s major physiographic features - Chesapeake Bay, Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain.  These are not topics covered in structural geology.   However, ALL of the SOLs listed in both ES.7. and ES.8. ARE covered routinely in geomorphology courses. In order to understand the processes that form landscapes, the rocks, sediments, water and soils that are present directly beneath our feet and surround us, and how they are components of the global systems that control them, teachers must understand geomorphic processes and systems. Geomorphology should be on the required coursework list as much or more than any other course. 

An easy fix might be to include both geomorphology and structural geology to the prescribed coursework list, but this change would add an unnecessary burden to the Earth Science curriculum. The typical Earth Science program already is difficult to complete in four years. Multidisciplinary fields such as geology are built from an understanding of many related sciences (chemistry, biology, physics, calculus), and so Earth Science students must take two semesters of all of these courses, as well as statistics.  They take more introductory science and math courses than students in other science fields.  In addition, they must take courses in meteorology, astronomy, and oceanography.  If we add more specific courses to the Earth Science curriculum, we should add only what is truly necessary, and structural geology is not necessary.