NAGT > Publications > JGE > Journal Articles 2001-2008 > JGE January 2005

January 2005 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 53, Number 1
Cover shot from Jan 2005 issue of JGE

The Use of a Mock Environment Summit to Support Learning about Global Climate Change
Catherine Gautier Geography Department and Institute for Computational Earth System Science, University of California Santa Barbara, CA
Stacy Rebich Geography Department and Institute for Computational Earth System Science,University of California Santa Barbara, CA

We propose that a learner-centered environment (LCE) is particularly suitable for Earth System Science (ESS) learning due to the nature of the knowledge and research environment that characterizes the field. We show how the principal characteristics of LCE effectively provide learners with motivation and opportunity to understanding this complex area of scientific inquiry.

We describe a course that supports learning the science of global change and address the human aspects of global change through the development and negotiation of an international environmental agreement. Students play the roles of country representatives and participate in activities such as writings, class discussions, presentations and negotiations. Rubrics developed for each activity are used both to assess student learning and to communicate feedback to students about their work.

Our study suggests that the adoption of a LCE enhanced student learning of content and critical skills. The frequent student presentations were found to play a major role in student learning. The rubrics served as scaffolding for knowledge construction, helped students to self-assess and maintain their quality of work, and allowed instructors to provide quick and efficient feedback. The development of basic learner-centered tools and teaching practices will help ESS instructors provide learning environments most suitable for their discipline.

Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 26.6MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Qualitative Analysis of College Students' Ideas about the Earth: Interviews and Open-Ended Questionnaires
Julie C. Libarkin Dept. of Geological Sciences, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Steven W. Anderson Science Department, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD
Julie Dahl Science Department, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD
Meredith Beilfuss College of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
William Boone College of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Student conceptual understanding and conceptual change is an active area of research in many science disciplines. In the geosciences, alternative conceptions held by students, particularly college students, are not well documented or understood. To further this body of research, students enrolled in introductory science courses at four institutions completed 265 open-ended questionnaires and participated in 105 interviews. Data were collected at a small private university, two large state schools, and one small public liberal arts college. Students were probed on a variety of topics related to the Earth's crust and interior, as well as geologic time. Analysis of questionnaire and interview responses indicates that students hold a number of non-scientific ideas about the Earth. Additionally, students apply a range of ontological categories to geologic phenomena, with significant implications for teaching geosciences from a systems perspective.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 165.8MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Designing Undergraduate Research Experiences for Nontraditional Student Learning at Sea
James E. Gawel Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program, University of Washington - Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
Cheryl L. Greengrove Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program, University of Washington - Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
The environmental science curriculum at the University of Washington, Tacoma (UWT) is based on an experiential learning model that enhances undergraduate education by involving students in ongoing research projects that extend beyond the classroom into the broader scientific community. Nontraditional student learning is especially enriched by access to unique hands-on field experiences that foster a sense of scientific ownership. During the summers of 2001 and 2002, undergraduate students from UWT participated in two very different marine research courses designed by environmental science faculty. By comparing these two course designs, we have identified two primary issues of importance when setting up a field research program at sea. First, learning outcomes are dependent on the platform chosen for the research cruise, and thus the vessel to be used must be considered when designing a curricular model. Second, planning and implementation considerations need to be addressed regardless of the platform chosen. Planning challenges include early advertising, minimizing costs, and scheduling for nontraditional students; while implementation considerations include research group configurations and the structure of the post-cruise working environment.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 7.6MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Life (Briefly) Near a Supernova
Steven I. Dutch Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Green Bay, WI
Supernova explosions are so enormous that their scale is difficult to imagine. Thought experiments and simple calculations involving the Sun going supernova can help with visualization. The energy flux would be roughly equivalent to having the entire earth's nuclear arsenal detonated a kilometer away, and would be sufficient to boil away the surface at hundreds of meters per second. Even on the temporarily protected night side, scattered light in the atmosphere and light reflected from interplanetary dust would far exceed normal sunlight, and radiation reflected from the moon would heat the earth to lethal temperatures if the moon were near full. The earth would take at most a few days to vaporize. Fortunately, the sun is not massive enough to become a supernova. Supernova explosions occur only in short lived stars, so that the melancholy science fiction theme of a civilization being incinerated by its own sun is very unlikely to happen in reality.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 65kB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

The DLESE Community Review System: Gathering, Aggregating, and Disseminating User Feedback about the Effectiveness of Web-based Educational Resources
Kim Kastens Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Department of Earth & Environmental Science, Columbia University, Palisades, NY
The Community Review System (CRS) of the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) is intended to help educators seeking excellent and appropriate digital resources, and resource creators seeking recognition. The CRS gathers web-based feedback from educators and learners who have used DLESE educational resources, plus specialist reviews by science and pedagogy experts. This information is used to identify exemplary resources to be showcased in the DLESE Reviewed Collection. Detailed, but anonymous, feedback is provided to the resource creator to encourage improvement of the resource. To help potential users of the resource decide whether (and how) to use the resource, we also web-disseminate four kinds of aggregated information from the review process: Teaching Tips, recommendations about whether the resource is effective with specific learner populations, a graphic summary of the quantitative feedback from the community reviews, and an Editor's summary.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 8MB Mar23 05)
URL for this article:

The Transparent Velocity-Head Rod for Inexpensive and Accurate Measurement of Stream Velocities
Mark A. Fonstad James and Marilyn Lovell Center for Environmental Geography and Hazards Research, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
James P. Reichling Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Jon W. Van de Grift 4887 White Rock Circle, Boulder, CO 80301
This note offers a new tool for indirect stream velocity estimation: the transparent velocity-head rod (TVHR). When compared to the commercially available Price-type AA current meter, the TVHR dramatically reduces the time necessary for each velocity measurement. The TVHR is simple to build, far less expensive than a high quality current meter, and typically precise within 5%. The TVHR is an outgrowth of the older tool of indirect velocity estimation known as the velocity-head rod (VHR). The VHR, although simple, contains measurement difficulties that make its use inaccurate and somewhat unwieldy. The TVHR is a simple construction of transparent plastic and hardwood meter sticks. It allows simultaneous measurement of upstream superelevated water and depressed downstream water elevation created when the rod is placed into flowing water. The difference between these water height measurements can be used to predict the depth-averaged flow velocity using a simple, physically-based equation empirically calibrated for this particular design. In a field environment the TVHR is rugged, lightweight, and simple enough to allow velocity measurements to be made very rapidly on site. In a classroom environment the TVHR can be used to teach physical energy concepts, calibration techniques, design, and sampling theory.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 22.4MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Creativity Skills Applied to Earth Science Education: Examples from K-12 Teachers in a Graduate Creativity Class
Audrey C. Rule Department of Curriculum & Instruction, State University of New York at Oswego, Oswego, NY

In 1950, J. P. Guilford, the President of the American Psychological Association, gave a speech often identified as initiating national interest in creativity in which he asked researchers to find the promise of creativity in our children and to investigate enhancement of the development of the creative personality. Fifty years later, Yager (2000) called for the knowledge accumulated during the ensuing years of inquiry to be applied to science education.

This article briefly explores different aspects of creativity, and then examines K-12 teachers' reactions to exercises applied to earth science concepts in a graduate creativity class. Different types of puzzle activities centering on geoscience content include a quiz game based on Odyssey of the Mind spontaneous problems, and other exercises related to embedded words, transformed cliches, remotely associated word sets, and wordsmithing. Teachers used visualization for an imaginary interview with a geoscientist, along with personal analogy of an earth science feature. As a culminating activity, teachers fashioned a geoscience curriculum material with a given set of items after using Productive Thinking (Schlichter and Palmer, 1993) to generate possible uses for each given material. Ideas for applying the activities to geoscience classes at various grade levels are included.

Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 10.7MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

A Data Rich Exercise for Discovering Plate Boundary Processes
Dale S. Sawyer Department of Earth Science, Rice University, Houston, TX
Alison T. Henning Department of Earth Science, Rice University, Houston, TX
Stephanie Shipp Department of Earth Science, Rice University, Houston, TX
Robyn W. Dunbar Stanford University, Stanford, CA

"Discovering Plate Boundaries" is a classroom exercise based on four world maps containing earthquake, volcano, topography, and seafloor age data. A novel aspect of the exercise is the "jigsaw" manner in which student groups access the maps and use them to discover, classify, and describe plate boundary types. The exercise takes three 50 minute class periods to complete and involves the students making presentations to one another in small groups and to the whole class. The students are first organized into four groups where they work together to become "specialists" in a particular data type. They are later reorganized into groups containing a specialist in each data type to study the boundaries of a particular tectonic plate. The exercise concludes with student presentations of their group work, followed by a presentation by the teacher and a group discussion.

The exercise is useful at a wide variety of levels because it is based only on observation and description. We have used it successfully with middle school, high school, and college major and non-major Earth science classes, as well as with pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers. The students come away fromthe exercise with knowledge of the key features of each type of plate boundary and a sense of why each looks the way it does. While the materials to conduct the exercise are available on the Internet (, the actual exercise is not based on student access to the Web and does not require sophisticated classroom technology equipment.

Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 516kB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

An Investigation of Student Engagement in a Global Warming Debate
Diane M. Schweizer Institute for Computational Earth System Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA
Gregory J. Kelly Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, Penn State University, University Park, PA
This study investigates how using debate as a pedagogical tool for addressing earth system science concepts can promote active student learning, present a realistic and dynamic view of science, and provide a mechanism for integrating the scientific, political and social dimensions of global environmental change. Using global warming as an example of earth system science, we consider how participation in debate provides an avenue for engaging students in science. Our investigation draws from studies of school science focusing on the use of argument as a pedagogical tool and examines how students make use of observationally-based climatic data sets when debating the cause of global warming. We found that, when crafting their arguments, students used observational data sets in four ways: 1) to support their central argument; 2) to negate the central argument of the opposing side; 3) to present challenges to the opposing side; and 4) to raise new scientific questions. We also found that students also used climatic data sets when discussing the social and political dimensions of global warming.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 77MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Concept Sketches - Using Student- and Instructor-generated, Annotated Sketches for Learning, Teaching, and Assessment in Geology Courses
Julia K. Johnson Dept. of Geological Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Stephen J. Reynolds Dept. of Geological Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
To promote active learning and increase student involvement in their own knowledge construction, we have implemented the use of concept sketches, which are simplified sketches that are concisely annotated with processes, concepts, and interrelationships, in addition to labels of features. When concept sketches are instructor-generated, they help students see how we organize and explain our knowledge. Students can generate their own concept sketches after seeing animations, video clips, photographs, and detailed textbook-style illustrations. They can also generate concept sketches while reading their textbook or after participating in inquiry exercises and in-class demonstrations. By generating such sketches and explaining them to their peers, students necessarily process the information more fully, consolidate their understanding, and personalize the information to suit their learning styles. Concept sketches are also excellent for identifying student conceptions prior to instruction, for directing student study as homework, and for assessing student understanding in exams. Concept sketching engages students in the learning process, develops critical thinking skills, teaches communication skills, and makes the course more enjoyable. Abundant educational research indicates that such sketches promote better student comprehension of the system under study and permit students to better use this knowledge to investigate the underlying processes and principles.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 95.8MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

A Student-Centered Project for Earth System History
Rebecca Teed Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN
This project is intended to replace some of the lectures that would ordinarily be necessary in a survey of Earth history over geologic time. The students will be taking the lecturer's place in front of the class, presenting some of the material to their colleagues. Students will work in groups on a single era or period. Each student role-plays an expert (such as an oceanographer) and works with teammates playing other sorts of experts (a biologist, a geologist, an atmospheric scientist). Their presentation will require them to do research. They will be constructing resource lists to keep track of how they learned what they are presenting and beginning a critical analysis of resources found on the World Wide Web. They will also write brief individual summaries of the findings within their area of expertise. While the students are researching and preparing their presentations, the instructor will start giving lectures on the earliest time units, modeling the kind of presentation that the students will be doing. Eventually, students will take the stage, presenting their time units in order. Rubrics for assessing the presentation and the resource list are included.
Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 67kB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

The Case for a Cooperative Studio Classroom: Teaching Petrology in a Different Way
Dexter Perkins Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks ND

To improve our Petrology course, I have changed it from a lab-lecture format to one that emphasizes studio and cooperative learning. The goals of the changes are to: (1) improve student learning by covering (a smaller number of) topics in greater depth, (2) deemphasize knowledge-based learning and emphasize development of higher order thinking skills (comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation), and (3) help our students develop good habits of the mind and fundamental skills useful for lifelong learning.

The reformatted course requires that students take more responsibility for their learning. I and the teaching assistant act as mentors, guiding students as they carry out the learning process. Lab and lecture sessions are seamlessly combined. Formal lectures are short and rare. Instead, students do many group projects, studying complex problems in depth. The content covered in the semester is less than in a more traditional class but the learning is greater.

After one semester, a multipronged assessment reveals that students like the redesigned course and believe they learn more than in a traditional course. They report no major problems. I, too, have found the redesigned course to be a success. It met all of the initial goals, was successful in many other ways, and will lead to improvements in other classes and in our curricula.

Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 16.5MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

Combining Stream Table Experiments, High-tech Particle Analysis, and the Web to Help Geomorphology Students Evaluate Landform Evolution
Douglas H. Clark Geology Department, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Scott R. Linneman Geology Department, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

Three sequential geomorphology labs introduce students to concepts of landform evolution, hypothesis testing, and grain-size analysis. Students combine qualitative observations with quantitative measurements from cutting-edge analytic equipment to critically evaluate their understanding of delta formation.

In the first lab, students predict graphically how a stream-table delta will develop through time, and hypothesize how and why sediment grain sizes change across and within the delta. Digital Web cameras provide remote viewing and a time-lapse MPEG video sequence of delta formation.

In the second lab, students compare the final landform with their original predictions of landform development. They sample delta topset, foreset, and bottomset beds for analysis on a laser particle-size analyzer to test their original hypotheses about grain-size distributions in the delta. Students operate the analyzer and produce grain-size distribution graphs of each sample. The graphs are posted to the course Web page, allowing students to compare visually the measured results to their Lab-1 predictions and to re-assess the processes of delta formation.

The third lab is a field trip to local stranded late-Pleistocene deltas. By comparing the sediments of natural deltas to the stream-table version, students report improved understanding of the similarities, as well as the differences, in formation of each. Student assessment of the labs indicates they feel improved understanding of and interest in landform development compared to more traditional lecture and field trip-based instruction on the topic.

Full text (Acrobat (PDF) 28.5MB Mar8 05)
URL for this article:

See more Journal Articles 2001-2008 »