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September 2009 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 57, Number 4

Fortner (2009) published in the March 2009 JGE was missing an acknowledgment. The correct acknowledgment should read, "This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DGE0440499. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation."

Editorial: Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences
Nir Orion, Roger Trend
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 222-223
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Commentary: Fostering Students' Argumentation Skills in Geoscience Education
Roger Trend
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 224-232
This paper considers opportunities for teachers to use an argumentation pedagogy in order to develop students' geoscience thinking skills. Educational argumentation principles and procedures are outlined. Argumentation can foster both student and teacher motivation and interest in the context of accessible and well-structured geoscience content. Geoscience lends itself to an argumentation approach because of its physical and intellectual accessibility, its concern with 'socio-scientific' ideas, its operation on scales readily understood by children and its regular occurrence in mass media reports. Students need to learn how to construct an argument, supported by evidence, and to learn from counterarguments. Argumentation involves both cognitive and affective skills of both teachers and students. It can be used to help children understand not merely the socio-cultural aspects of science but also basic science concepts and processes. A geosciences argumentation pedagogy is exemplified using coastal evolution: argumentation procedures and protocols are illustrated and explained. Four other potential opportunities in geoscience education are summarised in tabular form. The paper concludes by emphasising the critical role of epistemological understanding: it cannot be ignored.
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Curriculum & Instruction

A Novel Approach to Teaching and Understanding Transformations of Matter in Dynamic Earth Systems
Scott K. Clark, Duncan F. Sibley, Julie C. Libarkin, Merle Heidemann
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 233-241
The need to engage K-12 and post-secondary students in considering the Earth as a dynamic system requires explicit discussion of system characteristics. Fundamentally, dynamic systems involve the movement and change of matter, often through processes that are difficult to see and comprehend. We introduce a novel instructional method, termed Cause-MaP, designed to enhance non-science major undergraduates' understanding of complex Earth systems. Students are provided with a mechanism for explicitly following matter as it moves through the environment, and are encouraged to describe this movement both verbally, in response to a structured set of questions, and pictorially, in box-and-arrow diagrams. This approach raises awareness of the underlying causes for the dynamic nature of systems, and encourages reasoning, thoroughness, and transferability of skills. Preliminary data suggest that this method is effective with post-secondary students and we encourage adaptation of Cause-MaP to other courses at both the post-secondary and K-12 levels. A follow-up, more rigorous investigation of the impact of this approach on student learning will clarify the effectiveness of this instructional method.
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Characterizing and Improving Spatial Visualization Skills
Sarah Titus, Eric Horsman
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 242-254
Three-dimensional spatial visualization is an essential skill for geoscientists. We conducted two evaluations of students' spatial skills to examine whether their skills improve after enrollment in a geology course or courses. First, we present results of pre- and post-course survey of abstract visualization skills used to characterize the range of spatial abilities in the student population at Carleton College. In Introductory Geology, there was a correlation between those who score very poorly on the spatial survey and those who receive a grade of C or lower. Students in higher-level courses had better developed visualization skills than those in Introductory Geology. Gender differences disappeared in upper-level courses except for the spatial relations (mental rotation) task, where male students consistently outperformed females. Second, we describe the efficacy of instructional materials designed for a Structural Geology course at the University of Wisconsin. This study included a qualitative controlled experiment investigating whether frequent use of stereographic projections affected student performance on exam questions requiring spatial skills. The results of both the survey-based quantitative study and materials-based qualitative study suggest that students' spatial abilities can improve through practice provided in geology courses.
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A Cognitive Framework for Reasoning with Scientific Models
Duncan F. Sibley
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 255-263
Humans reason by analogy (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Gentner, 1983; 2003; Hofstadter, 2001, 2006; Pinker, 2007). Some have further argued that analogs can be scientific models (Hesse, 1966, Clement, 1989) although clearly not all analogies are models. Analogies based on mere physical similarity are not equivalent to scientific models but analogies based on shared relationships between the analog and target may be equivalent to scientific models. A literature review of analogies and scientific models indicates that all scientific models in geology are relational analogs. Relational analogs are equivalent to models because both: 1) are based on recognizing relational characteristics of the analog (or model) and target, 2) map similarities and differences between the analog (or model) and target and 3) support inferences about the target based on relational similarities between the target and analog (or model). Therefore, the cognitive processes involved in analogical thinking provide a theoretical, research-based framework for instruction designed to improve students' ability to learn how to use and generate scientific models.
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The Relationship Between Instructors' Conceptions of Geoscience Learning and Classroom Practice at a Research University
C.T. Markley, H. Miller, T. Kneeshaw, B.E. Herbert
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 264-274
Reform of undergraduate science education will need to be supported with effective professional development for current and future faculty. The professional development programs will need to address the knowledge, skills and beliefs of higher education faculty so that they can implement the kind of effective practices that results in the intended learning and meets the needs of diverse learners. To support the design of these programs, this research characterized the relationships between faculty's conceptions of teaching and learning on their teaching practices. Teaching faculty at a Doctoral/Research University were randomly interviewed to assess conceptions with respect to: 1) individual faculty learning, 2) student learning based on academic level, 3) how teaching is valued by the organization and 4) course goals. Additionally, classroom observations were conducted to determine the level of student-teacher interaction and cognitive engagement of the instructor and students with graphical and symbolic representations, as well as other manipulatives. Observations indicated teacher-centered classes across all academic levels. These data contrasted the subject's conceptions that cognitive and technical skill development is best achieved through self-directed learning. Analysis of the interviews and observations suggested the contradiction between learning practices the subject viewed as effective and the utilized teaching methods resulted from two major barriers: 1) the instructors' conceptions on the evolution of student learning and 2) an institutional reward structure that doesn't support the development of effective teaching practices.
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Students' Geocognition of Deep Time, Conceptualized in an Informal Educational Setting
Renee M. Clary, Robert F. Brzuszek, James H. Wandersee
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 275-285
Students in a Landscape Architecture Design 1 course (N = 25) at a research university in the southern US developed design solutions implementing geologic time for an informal education site. Those students who employed abstract metaphors for their designs (n = 8) were more successful than students who proceeded with a linear design construct. Pre- and post-test assessments using the Petrified Wood Survey and student-constructed timelines suggested that 1) 75% geoscience content knowledge is needed for successful design, and 2) relative understanding of Earth events and the barrenness of early Earth's landscape is also prerequisite for successful design implementation. Most revealing of students' cognitive processes were the concept statements and concept maps produced during the project. The concept statement forced students to address the project's requirements, take a position with their concept development of abstract metaphorical representation, and proceed with a final design solution. It appears that concept statements with accompanying concept maps facilitate student cognition by forcing student comprehension and application of geoscience content knowledge. We suggest that an inclusion of concept statements when teaching application of a complex Earth system or process may facilitate students' geoscience cognition in design and/or informal educational settings.
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Thai University Students' Prior Knowledge About P-waves Generated During Particle Motion
Suttida Rakkapao, Kwan Arayathanitkul. Passakorn Pananont
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 286-299
The goal of this study is to identify Thai students' prior knowledge about particle motion when P-waves arrive. This existing idea significantly influences what and how students learn in the classroom. The data were collected via conceptual open-ended questions designed by the researchers and through explanatory follow-up interviews. Participants (n = 171) were freshmen in science, engineering, agricultural sciences, and medicine fields enrolled in a university in Thailand. The major categories of Thai students' prior knowledge about particle motion at P-wave arrival are (1) the belief that particles spread in all directions, like water waves, when P-waves arrive, (2) the belief that particles move forward with a sine wave motion, and that these particles travel with the propagating wave energy to the P-wave's final destination, (3) the belief that particles vertically move back and forth at P- wave arrival. These beliefs are the alternative conception held by more than three-quarter of our study population. The other held the scientific conception (category 4) that particles in a medium vibrate in the same direction as the propagating wave energy when P waves arrive, coupled with recognition that particles do not travel with the propagating energy. Recognizing the existence of this prior knowledge is vital to creating teaching strategies to promote the conceptual change approach, which is based on both historical Piagetian learning theory and the new trend "knowledge in pieces", about particle motion and seismic energy, in particular, as well as earthquakes, in general.
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Barriers to College Students Learning How Rocks Form
Karen M. Kortz, Daniel P. Murray
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 300-315
Students do not have a good understanding of how rocks form. Instead, they have many non-scientific alternative conceptions to explain different aspects of rock formation. Using 10 interviews and nearly 200 questionnaires filled out by students at four different colleges, we identified many alternative conceptions students have about rock formation. We then used themes within those alternative conceptions to identify the underlying conceptual barriers that cause them. Conceptual barriers are deeply-held conceptions that prevent students from understanding scientific explanations. One conceptual barrier can cause many alternative conceptions, and alternative conceptions can be the result of more than one conceptual barrier. The seven conceptual barriers identified in the study that prevent students from understanding rock formation are Deep Time, Changing Earth, Large Spatial Scale, Bedrock, Materials, Atomic Scale, and Pressure. Because of these conceptual barriers, students cannot form scientifically correct mental models of how rocks form, resulting in alternative conceptions, so the conceptual barriers need to be overcome before students truly learn the scientific explanations of how rocks form. The results of this study can be applied to other areas of geology in addition to rock formation.
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An Empirical Methodology for Investigating Geocognition in the Field
Heather L. Petcovic, Julie C. Libarkin, Kathleen M. Baker
JGE, v. 57, n. 4, p. 316-328
The investigation of how geologists engage in field mapping, including strategies and behaviors, is an open area of research with significant potential for identifying connections to best instructional practices. While study of experts in an array of disciplines has yielded general conclusions about the nature of expertise, the consideration of geoscience experts, especially in authentic settings, is virtually unstudied. Field mapping involves a complex interplay between the individual mapper and the natural environment. Both cognition and behavior influence the observations and interpretations that ultimately yield the map, a representation of the natural world. We set out to establish a methodology, adapted from existing studies of expertise, that would allow us to document cognitive and behavioral processes involved in situated map-making and generate preliminary insights into expert-novice differences in mapping behavior and cognition. We present here a theoretically–driven, mixed methods methodology, and suggest that navigation coupled with field artifact and audio data provide the richest and most meaningful insights into geocognition in the field.
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