Grand Challenge 3:

What instructional practices and settings are most effective for the greatest range of geoscience learners?


The greater geoscience community (encompassing practicing geoscientists, geoscience educators, and geoscience students) does not reflect the demographic diversity of the nation as a whole, although it is progressing in that direction (e.g., Wilson, 2014a; 2014b; 2017). This progress may be better facilitated by the geoscience-education community with increased use of instructional strategies, context-rich subject matter, and learning settings that leverage greater accessibility, equity, and relevance in engaging and retaining diverse students.

Traditional and still-essential modalities of geoscience education, such as teaching and learning in the field, can and should be reformed to enhance their accessibility and relevance to a wider range of learners while maintaining their pedagogical value and intellectual rigor (Gilley et al., 2015; Figure 4). Further, nearly all geoscience teaching practiced in the United States, as is STEM teaching in general (e.g., McKinley & Gan, 2014) is reflective of a predominantly Euro-American cultural worldview and teaching practices that may hinder the access and learning of students from non-mainstream, underrepresented cultural and linguistic backgrounds (e.g., Ibarra, 2000; Nelson-Barber & Trumbull, 2007; Aikenhead & Michell, 2011; Ward et al., 2014). Instructional strategies that have been proposed to combat such cultural discontinuities, which include but are not limited to (a) blending of culturally different teaching philosophies and practices (e.g., Chávez & Longerbeam, 2016) and (b) preferential use of local settings and communally relevant examples and issues as context for geoscientific subject matter (e.g., Semken et al., 2017), have thus far been rigorously studied only in a limited number of learning environments, with small study populations, and over short time periods. These diverse approaches merit greatly expanded study that is driven jointly by geoscience-education researchers and by reflective practitioners, including those in the free-choice or informal science education community, who routinely serve a larger and more diverse population of STEM learners (Bell et al., 2009; see also Grand Challenge 2).

Recommended Research Strategies

  1. Apply new evidence-driven approaches (St. John and McNeal, 2017)to conduct meta-analyses of effective instructional strategies, teaching tools, and assessments for different populations of learners and different instructional settings.
  2. Expand on research on reformed and more accessible field-based geoscience education (e.g., Whitmeyer, Mogk, & Pyle, 2009; Gilley et al., 2015).
  3. Identify and address factors that variously foster or limit participation of underrepresented students in the geosciences (e.g., NASEM, 2011; Callahan et al., 2017; McDaris et al., 2017; Wolfe and Riggs, 2017).
  4. Test validity and effectiveness of strategies for curriculum design, instruction, and assessment that are explicitly focused on engaging and retaining more underrepresented cultural-minority students, such as place-based and culturally informed geoscience teaching (e.g., Riggs, 2005; Semken, 2005; Apple, Lemus, & Semken, 2014; Ward, Semken, & Libarkin, 2014; Semken et al., 2017),with larger study populations and over longer time periods.
  5. Expand research on and research-informed practice of geoscience instructional practices and settings that better serve students with disabilities (e.g., Carabajal, Marshall, & Atchison, 2017).
  6. Promote collaborations among researchers and practitioners in formal and informal (free-choice) geoscience education in examining instructional practices and settings most effective for the greatest range of geoscience learners.


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Apple, J., Lemus, J., & Semken, S. (2014). Teaching geoscience in the context of culture and place.Journal of Geoscience Education , 62(1), 1-4.

Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A. W., & Feder, M. A. (Eds.) (2009). Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits: Report of the National Research Council Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Callahan, C. N., LaDue, N. D., Baber, L. D., Sexton, J., van der Hoeven Kraft, K. J., and Zamani-Gallaher, E. (2017). Theoretical perspectives on increasing recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in the geosciences.Journal of Geoscience Education , 65(4), 563-576.

Carabajal, I. G., Marshall, A. M., & Atchison, C. L. (2017). A synthesis of instructional strategies in geoscience education literature that address barriers to inclusion for students with disabilities. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 531-541.

Chávez, A. F., & Longerbeam, S. D. (2016).Teaching Across Cultural Strengths: A Guide to Balancing Integrated and Individuated Cultural Frameworks in College Teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

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McDaris, J. R., Manduca, C. A., Iverson, E. R., & Orr, C. H. (2017). Looking in the right places: Minority-serving institutions as sources of diverse Earth-science learners. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 407-415.

McKinley, E., & Gan, M. J. S. (2014). Culturally responsive science education for indigenous and ethnic-minority students. In Lederman, N. G., and Abell, S. K., (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education, 2. New York: Routledge, 284-300.

National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). (2011). Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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St. John, K., & McNeal, K. S. (2017). The strength of evidence pyramid: One approach for characterizing the strength of evidence of geoscience education research (GER) community claims.Journal of Geoscience Education , 65(4), 363-372.

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Whitmeyer, S. J., Mogk, D. W., & Pyle, E. J. (Eds.) (2009). Field geology education: Historical perspectives and modern approaches. Geological Society of America Special Paper 461. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America.

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Wolfe, B. A., & Riggs, E. M. (2017). Macrosystem analysis of programs and strategies to increase underrepresented populations in the geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 577-593.