Bringing Geoscience Practices Into the Classroom: Developing Students' Skills

In conjunction with the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting (see workshop listing)

Tuesday, December 11, 9am-12pm
Marriott Marquis - Georgetown University


Workshop Description

The ways in which geoscientists think and learn about the Earth are skills that we want students to gain in our geoscience courses along with content knowledge. This workshop will focus on enhancing our teaching to engage students at all levels—from introductory to advanced—in developing the critical skills of geoscience: learning from observation, thinking across temporal and spatial scales, and working with complex systems.

You can register for this workshop when registering for the AGU Fall meeting.


9:00 Introductions and icebreaker

  • What sub-discipline of geosciences do you mostly teach in?
  • What level are you interested in developing students' skills?

9:15–10:00 Defining and elaborating on geoscience practices

  • Engagement activity: Slides.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.6MB Dec10 18)
  • Gallery walk to highlight use of practices in your sub-discipline
  • Report out from gallery walk:
    • Geographic facility:
      • Commonalities: Creating maps of the world
      • Challenges: Lack of knowledge about the world, where different countries are
    • Temporal reasoning:
      • Commonalities: physical time, environmental change, the history of things and that things happen over different time scales
      • Challenges: relating geologic time to human scale experiences; repetition of individual processes over time; rates of change
    • Spatial thinking:
      • Commonalities: really diverse among subdisciplines; different scales (local to regional to global) and how your perspective changes based on view; vertical vs. horizontal scales
      • Challenges: connections between ways you interpret different aspects of spatial scales; interpretation of maps and profiles/cross-sections; seeing something in 2D and thinking about it in 3D
    • Systems thinking:
      • Commonalities:
      • Challenges: Making connections between one system and another; students want concreteness, dynamic nature of systems is very challenging; we give them the pieces and expect them to be able to put them together;
    • Additional thoughts:
      • Challenge with math both conceptual and be able to manipulate equations, which are representations of the systems
      • Working as teams in which students identify different skills and combine accordingly
      • Reconstructing past processes, using analogues
      • Can drawing help students develop these skills? Creating conceptual models?
      • All are skills that are malleable and can be developed; make use of a growth mindset

10:00–10:30 Exploring resources, pick one practice to focus on

10:30–10:45 Break

10:45–11:15 Discussion in disciplinary groups and provide feedback

  • Introductory oceanography/atmospheric science: using global maps - spatial thinking, geographic facility
  • Large classes: Cli-Fi module, using fiction to tie into climate data (using other skills outside sciences)
  • Systems thinking: Concept maps to make diagrams of systems and show connections between them
  • Digestible models for biogeochemistry;
  • Manageable datasets for career preparation course; learning tools like Excel and other analysis tools
  • Atmospheric science: how to talk about uncertainty to scientists/non-scientists; analogies that build on students' cultural background; posters to reflect on learning
  • Bringing new courses into an existing curriculum and helping students with knowledge transfer between courses, building skills across the curriculum
  • Data visualizations to elucidate spatial and temporal thinking (drawings, augmented reality)
  • Flipping the class and more activity-based learning

11:15–11:45 Report out from groups

  • Concept maps - different ways to teach them; developed a concept map for sea level (started with words, associations); challenges - long list of connections, organization; try a scaffold approach with main pieces provided to students and let them develop connections. Challenge is that "it's all connected" - develop guidelines for what connections/arrows mean (e.g., are these feedbacks?); start with goal of what you want to communicate/define what you want them to draw (predictive? relationships?).
  • Uncertainty - what does this mean? Uncertainty in response to physical system, behavior of humans. What is uncertainty in models? Where does it originate from (e.g., initial conditions differences)? Simplify parts of model to see where each contributes to uncertainty. Ecologists handle uncertainty by looking at feedback loops and connections in ecosystem - use these teaching tools to apply to other geosciences aspects of uncertainty (Insect Apocalypse article; a Very Simple Climate Model from UCAR; other simple models for ideas).
  • Active learning - set the tone in the beginning about interactions and expectations
  • Using data (in non-science GE) - grab data ahead of time; what does x/y axis represent; what are trends; where are data from; stepwise walk through of data. Consider using suite of IPCC models and talk about uncertainty.
  • How to get students engaged (come to class & fully participate) - Incorporating personal stories/experiences of instructor or student; local examples to connect with students; what is important to students and connect to these. Try to connect to students experience (if from a farm- how has farm changed, rather than how have you experience climate change). Students may forget what you say, but they won't forget how they feel.
  • Accessible modeling - Goal to use sophisticated model (that may be used in their future job/career). What controls accessibility? What tools (e.g., Excel) can they use to get started? Layer in complexity stepwise. Also take data out of models for analysis and make local connections to data.
  • Drawing picture - break down language barriers
  • Owning data/analysis - get buy in from students (e.g., on climate change) by having them analyze data that they are connected to (e.g., from their community) - ask them to take their learning and use it to inform decision-making.

11:45–12:00 pm Summary and evaluation


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