March 2009 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 57, Number 2

Commentary: Darwin at 200
Danita Brandt, Michigan State University

This year marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth (February 12) and the 150th anniversary (in November) of the publication of Darwin's "extended abstract" On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Universities, scientific societies, and disciplinary journals anticipated this event by organizing meetings, theme sessions, and special issues to commemorate the
anniversary. The bicentennial provides an occasion to reflect on the impact Darwin's work has for us 200 years after his birth, and it presents an opportunity, especially coming so near the start of a new year, to frame resolutions for the future. In this commentary I will offer a vision for how geoscientists and geoscience educators can share this opportunity.

Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 120kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Commentary: The Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) Program: What's New About the Current Solicitation and Suggestions for the Geosciences' Community
Jill Singer, National Science Foundation

The Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program recently released the program guidelines (NSF 09-529) for the next round of the program. There are several changes to the CCLI program and a new program opportunity that invites proposals for projects that would provide leadership and contribute to transforming undergraduate STEM education. This article provides some basic background about the program, points out changes in the new solicitation, and encourages geoscience faculty to submit proposals to this program.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 123kB Jan8 10)URL for this article:

Commentary: A Brief Note on Misconceptions Regarding the Candle-and-Tumbler Experiment
Scott K. Clark, Michigan State University
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 402kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Teaching Radioisotope Dating Using the Geology of the Hawaiian Islands
Timothy J. Moran, Schurz High School

Students and the general public are often told that the chronology of ancient events is known with high confidence, but the methods used to determine how long ago an event occurred are usually not described or even mentioned. This gives the impression that the methods are either not important or that only scientists can understand them. Fortunately, many of the techniques are understandable if properly presented. Here one key method of dating ancient materials, argon/potassium radioisotope dating, is described in detail. In addition, a dramatic example of its calibration is described using the geology of the Hawaiian Islands. Sample lessons used in a high school physics class are described and discussed.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 244kB Jul17 09)
URL for this article:

Using Portable Media Players (iPod) to Support Electronic Course Materials During a Field-based Introductory Geology Course
Joe T. Elkins, University of Northern Colorado

Electronic course materials, such a videos, PowerPoint presentations, and animations, have become essential educational tools in classroom-based geoscience courses to enhance students' introduction to basic geological concepts. However, during field trips, the ability to offer students these electronic conceptual supports is lacking where students and faculty are often without access to the electrical grid. The video iPod offers an inexpensive and reliable means by which to provide students access to a wide range of electronic course materials during field trips. GeoJourney, a nine-week field-based interdisciplinary introductory geoscience program at Bowling Green State University, is the first geology field program to use the entire range of the video iPod's capabilities to support electronic course materials while in the field. A video iPod was issued to each student at the beginning of the program, along with a battery back-up and a DC charging cable which was plugged into a custom wiring harness installed in the transport vehicles. Students were able to use the iPods during travel time, in the field on hikes and projects, and in their tents at night. Types of materials included videos, still images, animations, text, audio files, and enhanced podcasts. Students' response to the use of the iPods is overwhelmingly positive and suggest their use on GeoJourney also reduces 'novelty space'.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 643kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Engaging Students and Evaluating Learning Progress using Collaborative Exams in Introductory Courses
Timothy T. Eaton, Queens College CUNY

Collaborative exams, with subsections in which students have an opportunity to work with each other, are not yet
widely used in introductory geoscience courses. This type of exam structure, with other participatory teaching
strategies, was employed in two different courses, and results were found to provide a sensitive and revealing tool for
analyzing the progress of students' individual and collaborative learning throughout the semester. A somewhat
different implementation of the collaborative exams in each course showed that overall student performance was
significantly improved compared to performance in the individual part, even for middle and highest-achieving thirds of
the student population, and progressive improvements in performance were followed through the semester. The
implementation of collaborative exams in the first course involved an aspect of exam grading that provided an incentive
for collaboration: the "jackpot effect", which provided insight into the dynamics of peer interaction. The simpler
implementation in the second course used a different approach in which the collaborative tests were less important to
the total class grade, but also showed improvement in students' individual performance. Wider application of these
methods could make a critical difference in reversing student apathy toward science in colleges and universities.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 343kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Fourth and Fifth Grade Students Learn About Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy Through Inquiry
Sarah K. Fortner, Ohio State University

A classroom of eighteen fourth and fifth graders in the Columbus, Ohio Public School system successfully
evaluated how people obtain fossil fuels, how they are limited in nature, and how they can develop renewable energy
solutions. Students modeled oil-drilling using: chocolate syrup, rice cereal, a baster, and a clear container. Chocolate oil
became more difficult to pump as oil supplies diminished. While pumping, chocolate oil spills contaminated the drill
hole and students excavated the polluted substrate. Students next learned more about oil spills by conducting their own
clean-ups of vegetable oil in mini tap water oceans. Students learned that 'solving' the problem of the oil spill created
new problems, including uninhabitable soapy oceans. This mimicked the failure of current technology to easily remediate
oil spills. Finally to cultivate a better understanding of renewable energy, students built and tested solar ovens and
discussed their benefits and limitations. After completing these activities, students showed a significant average improvement
from their pretest to posttest understanding of renewable and nonrenewable resources. In addition, students were interested and excited to act on what they had learned.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Engaging Students in Atmospheric Science: A University-High School Collaboration in British Columbia, Canada
K.E. Sinclair, University of Calgary
S.J. Marshall, University of Calgary

Five high schools in British Columbia, Canada, participated in an atmospheric sciences project during the winter of 2006-
07 established by researchers at the University of Calgary. Precipitation gauges and temperature and relative humidity probes were installed at each school and students were asked to collect a water sample each day that precipitation accumulated. These samples were used to trace the evolution of stable water isotopes across southwestern Canada. Researchers visited schools to talk about water resources and climate change, and data were collated and given to teachers to use in an atmospheric science project. The participatory nature of this project gave students exposure to data collection and basic analytical techniques used in atmospheric sciences. This was a first attempt at collaboration between our research group and secondary schools, and we point out a number of issues that arose in our study with respect to a successful two-way engagement between researchers and students. These include school engagement, the geographic distribution of the participating schools, the time span of the project, and the time available to schools. There are also a number of data quality considerations, but we were successful overall in acquiring a unique, high-quality dataset that satisfies our research objectives.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 709kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

Xoa:dau to Maunkaui: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into an Undergraduate Earth Systems Science Course
Mark H. Palmer, University of Missouri
R. Douglas Elmore, University of Oklahoma
Mary Jo Watson, University of Oklahoma
Kevin Kloesel, University of Oklahoma
Kristen Palmer, Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School (Columbia, MO)

Very few Native American students pursue careers in the geosciences. To address this national problem, several units at the University of Oklahoma are implementing a geoscience "pipeline" program that is designed to increase the number of Native American students entering geoscience disciplines. One of the program's strategies includes the development of an undergraduate course called 'Earth Systems of the Southern Great Plains.' The course focuses on geoscience topics that relate to the southern plains (particularly Oklahoma), emphasizes "sense of place," integrates indigenous knowledge and geoscience content, makes use of Kiowa stories and metaphors, and uses Native American Art as a vehicle of learning. Students in the course are required to put living indigenous philosophies into practice through teaching activities and the construction of geoscience models using everyday materials. The course is designed to highlight the integrated nature of Earth processes, elicit students' experiences through exploration of case studies illustrating links between indigenous knowledge and Earth processes, and demonstrate the process of practicing science. Formative student evaluations are providing useful information and the course is evolving. Preliminary assessment results suggest that integrating Native American culture, art, and geoscience content is a successful approach.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 167kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

What Undergraduates Think About Clouds and Fog
Elliot D. Rappaport, University of Maine

Weather events are part of every student's experience, and are controlled by basic principles involving the behavior of
matter and energy. Despite this, many students have difficulty explaining simple atmospheric phenomena, even after
exposure to primary and secondary science curricula. This study investigated the level to which undergraduates understood
the formation of clouds in the atmosphere, and how effectively they incorporated fundamental principles of matter
and energy into their explanations. Interviews with earth science undergraduates at the University of Maine indicated
that many had trouble with the correct identification of water in its different states, and were unable to name the
sources of moisture in certain cases of cloud formation. If these misconceptions can be recognized and addressed directly
by instructors, the potential exists to lead students to form better and more accurate mental models of weather.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 248kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

An Integrated Earth Science, Astronomy, and Physics Course for Elementary Education Majors
Roy E. Plotnick, University of Illinois-Chicago
Maria Varelas, University of Illinois-Chicago
Qian Fan, University of Illinois-Chicago

Physical World is a one-semester course designed for elementary education majors, that integrates earth science, astronomy,
and physics. The course is part of a four-course set that explores science concepts, processes, and skills, along with the nature of scientific practice, that are included in state and national standards for elementary school science. Geoscience concepts, such as water and seismic waves, are used to illustrate general principles of physics, such as wave transmission, refraction, reflection, and interference. Laboratories are drawn from both introductory physics and earth science courses and have been redesigned to have a strong inquiry component. Pre-assessments were used to evaluate students' prior knowledge of key ideas. The use of pyramid tests measurably enhanced student performance. A major theme of the course is how science is represented (and misrepresented) in the media. Pedagogical challenges encountered in the course are due to various factors, two main ones being lack of previous experience with the natural world among a largely urban student body and the diversity of material that the course covers.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 154kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article:

The Paradox of Middle and High School Students' Attitudes Towards Science Versus Their Attitudes About Science as a Career
K. Kitts, Northern Illinois University

From 2005-2007, 86 pre-service science teachers surveyed 2,535 middle and high school students in 27 rural, suburban and urban school districts in Northern Illinois on their attitudes about science. The survey consisted of ten questions on a ten-point Likert scale covering interest in science, attitudes about scientists and student confidence in, and desire to do science. These students no longer hold most stereotypes cited in the literature. For example, all students feel that girls are capable of science, that science is interesting and that their parents would be proud of them if they were to become scientists. However, very few students felt they might want to become scientists. Previous attempts to increase the numbers of students participating in science by targeting these stereotypes have been effective in changing student attitudes about science but have failed to increase the desire among students to become scientists. These students feel they can do science; they simply do not want to do science. This paradox is a different kind of problem than has been previously identified in the geoscience community and will require a retooling of approaches and programs wishing to increase student participation.
Full Text (Acrobat (PDF) 200kB Jan8 10)
URL for this article: