Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High School Honors Earth Science and the University of California

Notice to California High School teachers and staff

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that a high school course, entitled Honors Earth Science, has been approved by the UC Academic Senate Board on Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), and also by the UC Office of the President. The course was designed principally by Wendy Van Norden with help from the rest of us. It is listed on, under the listings for Harvard Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA. The course outline appears on the website of Harvard Westlake School, at There is also an Honors Geology curriculum available at Harvard-Westlake that also has "d" certification at

The Honors Earth Science course is intended for high school juniors and seniors. It has received an “honors” designation by the UC, so it confers and extra point to a student’s GPA. The course has the same level of rigor as most AP science courses, and it is possible to work with a local university to turn it into a dual credit course. Honors Earth Science has prerequisites of algebra, biology, and chemistry. In principle, any high school that adopts this course should receive UC's "d" Laboratory Science credit for it. Widespread adoption of this course in CA high schools should significantly increase the awareness of Earth Science by CA high school graduates, UC's entering students, and the public at large.

This course does not conflict with existing 9th grade Earth science classes. It is intended as a third-year science class for college-bound students. BOARS has made clear that 9th grade Earth science classes will not receive "d" certification.

There are, of course, several advantages for students to take a third science course in high school, for several reasons:
  • UC's "d" laboratory science requirements states "two and preferably three years" of high laboratory science are required"; Three years are better than two; nearly all (more than 90%) entering first-year UC students have 3 or even 4 years of science in high school
  • In this increasingly technically oriented world, students will benefit from as much science as they can get;'
  • Earth science underlies any understanding of the landscape, agricultural patterns , the location and character of towns cities, and resource and economic issues, and earth hazards. Especially in California, all people need a background in Earth science in order to become informed citizens because of California's Earth hazards, including earthquakes, landslides, floods, and tsunamis.
  • In this increasingly crowded world, resource and hazard issues are at the forefront of many events and conditions on Earth, e.g. the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Thailand and Pakistan floods, the East African droughts, the climate crisis. A knowledge of Earth science is essential for every citizen, including those that attend UC!
We hope that this new development will encourage high schools throughout California to offer this course, and thus better prepare their students to function as informed citizens in the 21st century.

We encourage you to look at this course outline carefully, and we encourage you to consider adopting the course in your own school. Widespread adoption of this course would go far towards the spread of Earth Science courses eligible for "d" Laboratory Science credit at UC throughout California. It would benefit all present and future Californians.


Wendy Van Norden, Harvard-Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA
Ray Ingersoll, Earth and Space Sciences, UCLA,
Bruce Luyendyk, Geological Sciences, UCSB,
Tom Traeger, La Canada High School, La Canada High School
Eldridge Moores, Geology, UCD

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