A Preliminary Evaluation of a First-Year College Credit Plus (CCP) Physical Geology Course
By Kurtz K. Miller, Wayne High School, Huber Heights City Schools, Huber Heights, Ohio, and Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio
In high schools across much of the United States, earth science, environmental science, and geology courses may often be taken by students simply looking for an "easy" third or fourth-year science class. The "rocks for jocks" mentality persists (Miller, 2014). This was a concern of mine when my principal asked me to consider offering a College Credit Plus (CCP) physical geology course as a dual enrollment option. Based on my experience with this course, I will detail and evaluate the first offering of physical geology at a high school in Ohio. Hopefully, this will be useful to other high school geoscience teachers who have the opportunity to teach similar classes. After introducing how this opportunity arose, I will provide background information about CCP, how I approached teaching physical geology, and data, discussion points, and conclusions about my experiences.
Although I possess an earth and space science teaching license (grades 7-12) in Ohio, this did not automatically qualify me to serve as a CCP geology instructor through the nearby community college. Instructors at the community college level typically hold a master's degree, or higher, in the field being taught; a minimum requirement is usually 18 graduate hours in the subject area. Thankfully, since I have a master's degree in the geological sciences, I was determined by the community college to be fully qualified to teach CCP environmental, historical, and physical geology. After receiving a faculty mentor, I was invited to teach one physical geology lab section on the community college campus, so I would be prepared for the first offering of my dual-enrollment class. Strong support from the department of geology was crucial in launching CCP physical geology, including but not limited to providing rock/mineral samples, some equipment, logistics, curriculum ideas, and other resources.
The state of Ohio through the Department of Higher Education (the Ohio Board of Regents) and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) recently expanded dual enrollment opportunities in school districts across the state. The previous dual enrollment program participation numbers, under what was called Post-Second Educational Options (PSEO), has been dwarfed by the newer and more robust CCP programming. For instance, PSEO student participation in Fall Semester 2014 was estimated to be 13,813, whereas the numbers spiked to approximately 64,482 in Fall Semester 2016 (College Credit Plus, n.d.). Dual enrollment courses have likewise expanded in many other parts of the country (Andrews, 2004). Community colleges and state universities throughout Ohio are now partnering with rural, suburban, and urban school districts to offer CCP courses on-site in high schools, on main campuses, at satellite campus locations, online, or even hybrid classes. CCP instructors may be full-time, college faculty members, part-time college instructors, or regular high school teachers who meet the minimum qualifications for teaching in higher education. In my case, I am a full-time high school science teacher with a full load of physical science and physics classes; on top of this I taught CCP physical geology Fall Semester 2018.
One of the early struggles I had planning for the course was how to make physical geology rigorous while at the same time not so challenging to discourage future interest in the class. First, I decided to structure the course with a traditional mid-term exam as well as a final exam. Both exams had two essays with several pages of short-answer questions; no constructed response items appeared on either exam. Next, I organized the class in a way to actively promote the writing of essays. Students wrote three essays during the semester using a standard, extended five-paragraph format. Finally, there was a full-day field trip to the Oakes Quarry Park (Fairborn, Ohio) and the Miami River Quarry (Sidney, Ohio), so students could learn about the stratigraphy of the Miami Valley. On the field trip, students applied the principles of physical geology learned during the semester. The course included a lab portion (see Figure 1 for the weighted grade distribution) and was fast-paced because the class was an Ohio Transfer Module tag; the agreed upon content had to be covered.
I surveyed students about the class at the beginning of the semester, right after the mid-term, and then after the final exam. The three questions (Figure 2) remained the same each time students were surveyed. Student interest in physical geology remained consistent throughout the semester except for a slight dip after the mid-term exam (Figure 3), possibly because many students received discouraging grades [Class Interview #1, Figure 4, Final Survey, Quote #9]. The average grade on the mid-term exam was a 70% (C-), although three students did receive an "A." Students' view of the difficulty of studying physical geology was initially undecided, but this trended down (disagreeing with this statement), perhaps because a handful of students found how to successfully study [Class Interview #1; Figure 4, Final Survey, Quote #6]. Over the semester, students realized studying physical geology requires time to read the textbook, study notes/Power Points, learn the major themes, and to thoughtfully prepare for essay-type tests [Class Interview #1; Figure 4, Final Survey, Quotes #1, 2, and 3]. Through interviews, students indicated that CCP courses require more study time, move at a faster pace, may require more writing, and may heavily weight mid-term and final exams than regular high school courses (Figure 4, Final Survey, Quotes #1, 3, and 5). The average final score for the course was an 82% while the median score was an 83% (SD =8.03%).
Transitioning to a dual enrollment instructor can be a challenging task. It is easy to start managing the dual enrollment course the same way one approaches teaching high school. To avoid falling into this trap, I found it important to quickly set high expectations, outline the rules (e.g. a no-late work policy), and communicate early with parents. I invited parents to join my Remind 101 app, so they could keep updated with what was happening in the class. Although lecture may appear to be the most efficient way to deliver a large amount of academic content in a short amount of time, student engagement and involvement, particularly with high school students, must be built into one's instructional repertoire. Strong support from the college/university partner is crucial to having successful dual enrollment programming, especially when many school districts have a limited budget to purchase expensive rock and mineral samples.
With a continued push for students to be "college ready," dual enrollment offers students the opportunity to learn how to be a college student while still in high school. In some cases, high school students are earning associate's degrees before graduating high school! The push for dual enrollment offers an excellent opportunity for geoscience teachers to broaden students' early exposure to the geological sciences. Dual enrollment may also offer a way to bolster the PK-12 geoscience workforce pipeline. The initial iteration of teaching physical geology was an excellent experience. It is my sincere hope this article will serve as a resource to help steer geoscience teachers toward offering similar experiences to other high school students.
Andrews, H.A., 2004, Dual credit research outcomes for students: Community College Journal of Research and Practice, v. 28, p. 415-422, doi.org/10.1080/1066892049044445.
Ohio Department of Higher Education, 2017, College Credit Plus: Second year numbers show success: https://tinyurl.com/ycc3brxx (accessed January 2019).
Miller, K., 2014, Beyond "rocks for jocks": Elevating geoscience education: Earth, v. 59, p. 8.
*Due to absenteeism and attrition, only 15 students of the 20 physical geology students were available for timely surveying with the rest of the class. Therefore, five of the participants were withdrawn from data trend. There was little to no effect upon the trend in data.