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November 2009 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 57, Number 5

Calibrated Peer Review Assignments for the Earth Sciences
James A. Rudd, II, Vivian Z. Wang, Cinzia Cervato, Robert W. Ridky
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 328-334

Calibrated Peer Review ™ (CPR), a web-based instructional tool developed as part of the National Science Foundation reform initiatives in undergraduate science education, allows instructors to incorporate multiple writing assignments in large courses without overwhelming the instructor. This study reports successful implementation of CPR in a large, introductory geology course and student learning of geoscience content. For each CPR assignment in this study, students studied web-based and paper resources, wrote an essay, and reviewed seven essays (three from the instructor, three from peers, and their own) on the topic. Although many students expressed negative attitudes and concerns, particularly about the peer review process of this innovative instructional approach, they also recognized the learning potential of completing CPR assignments. Comparing instruction on earthquakes and plate boundaries using a CPR assignment vs. an instructional video lecture and homework essay with extensive instructor feedback, students mastered more content via CPR instruction.

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Teaching Urban High School Students Global Climate Change
Audrey C. Rule, Mary A. Meyer
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 335-347

Curriculum materials designed to provide students with practice interpreting plotted evidence of global climate change were developed using graphs from the scientific literature and tested with one hundred urban high school students from a high-poverty school in a major northern city in the US. The graph interpretation lessons followed a constructivist-teaching learning cycle format. Additional activities included watching videos related to climate change and completing a graphing exercise. Students displayed motivation during the lessons along with significant improvement from pretest to posttest in graph interpretation skills and content knowledge of organisms affected by climate change. Student motivation was revealed by task commitment during the exercises as well as requests for additional activities related to investigating environmental effects on organisms and stopping global climate change. The efficacy of the lessons is attributed to the concrete, manipulative nature of the graph interpretation sets, real-world connections of the topic, the focus on interesting organisms, the opportunity for students to express their views, and the use of multi-media.

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Every Equation Tells a Story: Using Equation Dictionaries in Introductory Geophysics
Jacqueline Caplan-Auerbach
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 348-355

Many students view equations as a series of variables and operators into which numbers should be plugged rather than as representative of a physical process. To solve a problem they may simply look for an equation with the correct variables and assume it meets their needs, rather than selecting an equation that represents the appropriate physical process. These issues can be addressed by encouraging students to think of equations as stories, and to describe them in prose. This is the goal of the Equation Dictionary project, used in Western Washington University's introductory geophysics course. Throughout the course, students create personal dictionaries consisting of (a) the equation itself, (b) a brief description of variables, (c) a prose description of the physical process described by the equation, and (d) additional notes that help them understand the equation. In writing these definitions students learn that equations are simplified descriptions of physical processes, and that understanding the process is more useful than memorizing a sequence of variables. Dictionaries also serve as formula sheets for exams, a task that encourages students to write meaningful, organized definitions. Furthermore, instructor review of the dictionaries is an excellent way to identify student misconceptions and learn how well they understand derivations and lectures.

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Coupled Collaborative In-class Activities and Individual Follow-up Homework Promote Interactive Engagement and Improve Students Learning Outcomes in a College-level Environmental Geology Course
Leilani Arthurs, Alexis Templeton
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 356-371

Interactive engagement pedagogies that emerge from a constructivist model of teaching and learning are often a challenge to implement in larger classes for a number of reasons including the physical layout of the classroom (e.g. fixed chairs in an amphitheater-style room), the logistics of organizing a large number of students into small peer-learning groups, the ability of a single instructor to personally interact with each of many small groups, and the design of small group activities that are engaging and facilitate student learning. For a large introductory-level Environmental Geology college course, 5 coupled collaborative class-long in-class activities and individual follow-up homework were designed and implemented around key topics and specific learning goals. The goals behind designing and implementing these coupled in-class activities and homework were to (1) improve student attitudes towards science and learning science and (2) improve their content knowledge and conceptual understanding. To evaluate the extent to which these goals were achieved, 5 forms of assessment were used: a pre-instruction entrance questionnaire, pre- and post-instruction attitudinal surveys, pre- and post-instruction course tests, a post-instruction exit questionnaire, and post-instruction exit interviews. The findings from these forms of assessment suggest that the coupled in-class activities and individual follow-up homework improved targeted student learning outcomes.

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Issues Regarding Student Interpretation of Color as a Third Dimension on Graphical Representations
Ximena C. Cid, Ramon E. Lopez, Steven M. Lazarus
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 372-378

In this study we report on issues related to the use of color as a third dimension on graphical representations provided to students. We find that a majority of the students sampled have a preconceived color map regarding temperature, with blue indicating low temperatures and red indicating high temperatures. Attempts to transfer this particular color map to representations of other quantities, however, may not be successful. In particular, when displaying a topographic map we found that students had a predilection to visualize a hill, regardless of the color map used. Moreover, many students ignored a systematic use of color in favor of seeing a hill in the representation. This suggests that a representation of a feature that seems obvious to an instructor may be interpreted to have a different meaning by a student. Hence, care should be taken to ensure that students interpret the use of color in figures the way the figures are intended.

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Evaluating and Communicating Geologic Reasoning with Semiotics
William C. Parcell, Lisa M. Parcell
JGE, v. 57, n. 5, p. 379-389

Cognitive and conceptual uncertainties are critical elements in geology from the earliest data collection stage to concluding interpretations. How a geologist conceptually weighs the importance of various data greatly influences final interpretations. In order for the process of data selection and interpretation to be transparent and repeatable, field methods and analyses should be able to communicate these cognitive processes, yet such uncertainty is difficult to characterize and estimate with standard statistical methods based on frequency probability. Semiotics and expert systems are used to frame discussion of the methods of stratigraphic reasoning and develop a field-based method to communicate cognitive and conceptual uncertainty from data collection to final interpretation. In semiotics, signs are the meanings an observer gives to an object to reach an interpretation. Uncertainty in knowledge is derived from problems in recognizing objects and judgment of inferred relevance to a larger interpretation. A final measure of geologic interpretation certainty (IC) can be derived from the product of the confidence factor (CF) of a measurement and the relevance factor (RF) of that object to an interpretation. Communicating levels of interpretation certainty, relevance, and significance allows geologic investigations to be more transparent to subsequent geoscientists, non-geologists, and even the original investigator.

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