March 2007 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 55, Number 2
The Michel-Lévy Interference Color Chart for optical mineralogy (above) and as seen with red/green colorblindness (deuteranope, below). Roughly 1 in 13 males have some kind of color deficit, so most mineralogy/petrology instructors will encounter students who have trouble with aspects of birefringence and pleochroism every year or so. Details

Conceptions of the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming among Elementary Students from Diverse Languages and Cultures
Okhee Lee, University of Miami
Benjamin T. Lester, University of Miami
Li Ma, University of Miami
Julie Lambert, Florida Atlantic University
Melissa Jean-Baptiste, University of Miami,
As part of a large-scale intervention, this study examined conceptions of the greenhouse effect and global warming among elementary students from diverse languages and cultures in the U.S. To make science relevant and meaningful for diverse student groups, the intervention emphasized the integration of (a) scientific understanding and inquiry, (b) English language and literacy, and (c) students' home language and culture. The study involved 5th grade students from five elementary schools of varying demographic makeup in a large urban school district. The intervention's effectiveness was measured by student responses on a writing prompt addressing this topic in the beginning and at the completion of instruction over the school year. The results indicate that students overall demonstrated more scientific conceptual understandings after instruction. Furthermore, all demographic subgroups in terms of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, and home language demonstrated statistically significant improvements after instruction, with the exceptions of African-American and Haitian students showing little or no gain.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 591kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

Teaching Geology in the Field: Significant Geoscience Concept Gains in Entirely Field-based Introductory Geology Courses
Joe T. Elkins and Nichole M.L. Elkins, Bowling Green State University
This study quantifies improvements in introductory students' concepts in geoscience after completion of a nine week, entirely field-based geology course. Sixty-three student participants in three consecutive introductory field programs demonstrated statistically significant improvements in geoscience concept knowledge as a result of their experiences on the field programs. Conceptual content gain was assessed using a 19-item, scaled Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI). The scaled GCI mean pre and post-test scores of field course participants show significantly greater improvement in geoscience concept understanding compared with scaled GCI scores from 29 other introductory geoscience courses from across the United States (n = 63 students). Geology courses taught as an extended field trip result in improvements in geoscience concepts for their introductory students that are significantly greater than comparable campus-based courses.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 171kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

FossilPlot, an Excel-based Computer Application for Teaching Stratigraphic Paleontology Using the Sepkoski Compendium of Fossil Marine Genera
Leif Tapanila, Idaho State University
FossilPlot is a new Excel-based spreadsheet application of the Sepkoski Compendium designed for educational use in paleontology and historical geology courses. This free software allows students to compile any combination of marine animal genera to generate graphs depicting diversity curves and stratigraphic ranges for the Phanerozoic. Sample exercises are provided to show how this software can be integrated into lecture, lab and field studies in university-level paleontology courses. The large volume and full accessibility of the dataset gives instructors a versatile tool to enhance active learning of the dynamic history of life.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 2.4MB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

Box Diagrams to Assess Students' Systems Thinking about the Rock, Water and Carbon Cycles
Duncan F. Sibley, Charles W. Anderson, Merle Heidemann, John E. Merrill, Joyce M. Parker, and David W. Szymanski, Michigan State University
Box-diagrams of reservoirs and processes that describe the rock, water and carbon cycles were used in a general education course as instructional and assessment tools. Students overall success at constructing correct box-diagram models of the water cycle demonstrates that they have three critical abilities: 1) to identify substances, locations of substances and processes that move and change substances in a system, 2) to organize the substances and processes within different frameworks and 3) to understand the generally cyclic nature of a system. Many students lack a fourth critical ability, to recognize parts of a system that are not readily apparent or visible. Students who lack this fourth ability are not able to construct diagrams with appropriate ions, molecules and/or chemical reactions. This lack of appropriate mental models is the major source of error in students' attempts to describe movement and change of matter with rock and carbon cycle box diagrams. Students have greater success with box-diagram models of the water cycle because chemical reactions were not included in the water cycle. Phase change is important in understanding the water cycle and students show evidence of poor understanding of condensation.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 2MB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

Using Mobile Mapping to Determine Rates of Meander Migration in an Undergraduate Geomorphology Course
Kirsten Menking and Meg E. Stewart, Vassar College
Students in an undergraduate geomorphology course used tablet computers equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to map the current location of a stream that crosses the Vassar College campus in Dutchess County, New York. They also digitized the position of the stream on aerial photographs taken in 1959 to determine meander migration rates over the last ~45 years of ~0.2 m/yr. The purpose of the exercise was to introduce basic GIS skills, such as georeferencing of air photos, digitization, acquisition of GPS data points, data projection, and creation of maps. Students were evaluated on the quality of their maps and on an accompanying short scientific article. Here we discuss the exercise and the pros and cons of the tablet PC technology.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 1.3MB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

A Redesigned Geoscience Content Course's Impact on Science Teaching Self-efficacy Beliefs
Tracy J. Posnanski, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Many future elementary science teachers have never been exposed to constructivist-based science instruction as recommended by national and state science standards. A constructivist-based course format asserts that the construction of knowledge arises from interactions among students, activities that link prior conceptions to new experiences, and hands-on and investigative learning activities. This study indicates that a science content course for preservice teachers can be designed and implemented with constructivist teaching practices. When education majors have experiences with inquiry-based instructional methods in a content-based course, their preparation as future teachers of science is benefited. The constructivist framework of the course appeared to have an impact on the future teachers' beliefs about their ability to teach science effectively. The key findings of the study indicate that the modeling of effective instruction, exposure to science standards, overviews of the nature of science, and practical experiences with school-based curricular activities serve to improve the educational experiences and self-efficacy beliefs of the preservice teachers.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 258kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

Teaching the Nitrogen Cycle and Human Health Interactions
Margaret Townsend, University of Kansas
Audrey C. Rule, State University of New York at Oswego
Mary Ann Meyer, Thomas M. Cooley High School, Detroit Public Schools
C. Jolene Dockstader, Jerome School District, Jerome, Idaho
An overview of components of the nitrogen cycle with Internet resources for students to explore is presented to discuss the ways this important cycle affects life. Beneficial uses include fertilizers, explosives, aerosol propellants and food packaging, and anesthetics; problems associated with nitrogen include NOx emissions, water pollution, and potential health effects. A learning cycle lesson on the nitrogen cycle is provided, along with pretest-posttest data (N-cycle drawings and responses to a 25-question test) from rural sixth grade students and urban high school students who participated in the activities. Both groups were enthusiastic about the lessons and showed significant improvement, although final scores of the sixth graders were low. Results of an additional experimental group-control group pretest-posttest study with undergraduate preservice elementary teachers indicated that students learned more when using the hands-on nitrogen cycle cards with objects and by writing related poetry (experimental condition) than by creating a nitrogen cycle diagram online through Internet searches for information and writing summary essays of cycle interactions. The high school and college students were highly motivated by the lessons and showed larger gains than sixth graders, indicating that the lessons are most appropriate for older students.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 486kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

Introducing Medical Geology to Undergraduates as a Critical Thinking and Risk Assessment Tool
Anne Taunton and Mickey Gunter, University of Idaho
Medical geology is a fast growing sub-discipline within the geological sciences; in fact it now has its own division within the Geological Society of America. With more universities pushing for integrated science classes and cross-discipline projects, it is necessary for geology educators to help students think critically and creatively about the incorporation of other fields of study into geology. We have designed a straightforward project suitable for undergraduates that emphasizes the role of geology in human health. Using the publicly available Vital Statistics of the United States, students calculate standard mortality ratios (SMRs) from respiratory and intrathoracic cancers and breast cancer as a function of county of death in Montana and California over the period of 1978-1993. The SMRs show variances in death rates from these cancers when compared to the state rates. The students can superimpose these data on geological maps, then raise questions and form theories about how geology may or may not impact the population's health. Not only does this project foster critical thinking skills about science integration, it serves as a unique tool for teaching risk perception vs. reality.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 397kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:

A Professional Engineering Degree in Petroleum Geoscience to Satisfy Caribbean Industry
Richard A. Dawe, Brent Wilson, and Winston Rajpaulsingh The University of the West Indies

Faced with industrial growth but an aging community of petroleum geoscientists, the petroleum industry in Trinidad and Tobago needs an injection of locally-grown graduates trained to the highest international standards to fill professional positions. To address this requirement, an undergraduate program in Petroleum Geoscience was introduced into the Faculty of Engineering at the University of the West Indies' Trinidad Campus in September 2001. This was done at the request of the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (GSTT), the Government, and the major upstream petroleum companies, all of whom assisted in the development of the unique, 3-year program by forming an industry advisory committee (the JIAAC). The program was taken through all its committee stages during May-July 2001. Subsequent progress has been phenomenal. All student intakes (limited to about 15 and comprising local citizens) have had excellent qualifications and have included some of the best science-based school performers. Industry has already assimilated three cohorts of students, totalling 43 graduates. Some have either been posted abroad by their companies for career development, or are abroad for further study, often sponsored by their company. A further 46 are currently progressing through the program.

This paper describes this undergraduate program in petroleum geoscience and engineering. It is one of the few university geoscience programs worldwide that (a) was created through a partnership of academia, government and industry, (b) focuses on the Petroleum Sector, and (c) has the potential to be recognized globally as an ideal setting for the recruitment of quality geoscientists for petroleum exploration, development and engineering. The partnership between industry, higher education, government, and professional bodies provides for prime development of human resources, which is the key investment in developing the next generation of local professionals.

Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 558kB Jun6 07)
URL for this article:


2006 NAGT James Shea Award (Acrobat (PDF) 96kB Jun6 07)