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May 2010 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 58, Number 3

Commentary: A Summary and Analysis of Twenty-Seven Years of Geoscience Conceptions Research
Kim A. Cheek
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 122-134


Seventy-nine studies in geoscience conceptions appeared in peer-reviewed publications in English from 1982 through
July 2009. Summaries of the 79 studies suggest certain recurring themes across subject areas: issues with terms, scale
(temporal and spatial), role of prior experience, and incorrect application of everyday knowledge to geoscience
phenomena. The majority of studies reviewed were descriptive and employed only one method of data collection and
response type. Eleven-fourteen-year-olds and university undergraduates were most commonly represented in the
samples. A small percentage of studies of geoscience conceptions of K-12 students made reference to standards
documents or a curriculum as justification for the research design. More directed descriptive studies, along with greater
parity between descriptive and intervention studies is needed. Greater attention to developmental theories of concept
acquisition, national standards documents, and intersection with cognitive science literature are warranted.

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The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program: A Model for Broadening Participation of Underrepresented Groups in the Physical Sciences through Effective Partnerships with Minority-Serving Institutions
Keivan Guadalupe Stassun, Arnold Burger, Sheila Edwards Lange
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 135-144

We describe the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program as a successful model for effective partnerships with
minority-serving institutions toward significantly broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in the
physical sciences. The program couples targeted recruitment with active retention strategies, and is built upon a clearly
defined structure that is flexible enough to address individual student needs while maintaining clearly communicated
baseline standards for student performance. A key precept of the program‟s philosophy is to eliminate passivity in
student mentoring; students are deliberately groomed to successfully transition into the PhD program through active
involvement in research experiences with future PhD advisers, coursework that demonstrates competency in core PhD
subject areas, and frequent interactions with joint mentoring committees. This approach allows student progress and
performance to be monitored and evaluated in a more holistic manner than usually afforded by limited metrics such as
standardized tests. Since its inception in 2004, the program has attracted a total of 35 students, 32 of them
underrepresented minorities, 60% female, with a retention rate of 91%. Recent research indicates that minority students
are nearly twice as likely as non-minority students to seek a Masters degree en route to the PhD. In essence, the Bridge
program described here builds upon this increasingly important pathway, with a dedicated mentoring process designed
to ensure that the Masters-to-PhD transition is a successful one.
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Pitfalls and Successes of Developing an Interdisciplinary Watershed Field Science Course
Andrea R. Pearce, Paul R. Bierman, Gregory K. Druschel, Christine Massey, Donna M. Rizzo, Mary C. Watzin, Beverly C. Wemple
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 145-154

ABSTRACT At the University of Vermont, an interdisciplinary faculty team developed an introductory watershed science field course. This course honed field skills and catalyzed communication across water-related disciplines without requiring specific prerequisites. Five faculty (geology, engineering, geography, natural resources) taught the four-credit course, highlighting interactions between the hydrosphere, biosphere, and solid Earth. The course, based in the Winooski River watershed, followed the river from its headwaters downstream to its outlet in Lake Champlain focusing on data collection and analysis methods, while exploring threats to this freshwater ecosystem. This course was offered as a summer field course in 2007. Student learning was assessed using weekly summative assignments and final presentations incorporating field data and acquired knowledge. Attitude and knowledge surveys, administered before and after this first year, documented increased self-assessed learning, affinity for the field learning environment, and that the course provided training relevant to various disciplines. The fiscally unsustainable summer model, and course evaluations guided major revisions to the course. The second offering, in 2009, met weekly during spring term to provide students with context before a two-week field component. This field component was held immediately after classes ended to avoid the need to pay faculty summer salaries.

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Using High-Precision Specific Gravity Measurements to Study Minerals in Undergraduate Geoscience Courses
Mark E. Brandriss
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 155-165


This article describes ways to incorporate high-precision measurements of the specific gravities of minerals into
undergraduate courses in mineralogy and physical geology. Most traditional undergraduate laboratory methods of
measuring specific gravity are suitable only for unusually large samples, which severely limits their usefulness for
student projects involving minerals in ordinary rocks of the sort usually encountered by working geologists. To
overcome this limitation, a custom-built apparatus is described that, when combined with a precision analytical balance
of the type commonly present in academic research laboratories, can be used to determine the specific gravities of
samples as small as several milligrams. For a balance with precision to 0.01 mg, G can typically be measured with an
accuracy of ±0.01 or better for specimens weighing several tens of milligrams and ±0.03 or better for specimens as small
as 5-10 milligrams. The apparatus is easy to make and easy to use. It provides students with a simple and effective way
to use quantitative methods to characterize and identify minerals in hand specimen, including small single crystals
separated from common medium-grained rocks.

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Assessing Factors that Influence the Recruitment of Majors from Introductory Geology Classes at Northern Arizona University
Thomas D. Hoisch, James I. Bowie
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 166-176


In order to guide the formulation of strategies for recruiting undergraduates into the geology program at Northern
Arizona University, we surveyed 783 students in introductory geology classes and 23 geology majors in their junior and
senior years. Our analysis shows that ~7% of students in the introductory classes are possible candidates for recruitment.
Influential factors that weigh in favor of majoring in geology include good employability, good salary potential, and
opportunities for working outdoors, field work, observing nature, travel, and environmentally friendly employment. In
addition, students view a career as a geologist as potentially the most fulfilling of the science occupations and among the
more environmentally friendly. However, students perceive geology to be the least difficult of the sciences, and geology
occupations to be low-paying and low in prestige relative to the other sciences. These negative perceptions are a
problem for recruitment and may be countered by providing information to introductory students showing the salaries
of geologists in comparison to other science occupations, and by communicating the rigorous nature of the more
advanced geology classes.

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The InVEST Volcanic Concept Survey: Exploring Student Understanding About Volcanoes
Thomas L. Parham Jr., Cinzia Cervato, William A. Gallus Jr., Michael Larsen, Jon Hobbs, Pete Stelling, Thomas Greenbowe, Tanya Gupta, John A. Knox, Thomas E. Gill
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 177-187


Results from the Volcanic Concept Survey (VCS) indicated that many undergraduates do not fully understand volcanic
systems and plate tectonics. During the 2006 academic year, a ten-item conceptual survey was distributed to
undergraduate students enrolled in Earth science courses at five U.S. colleges and universities. A trained team of graders
scored 672 completed surveys, coding responses to each item with a score, out of 3, based on accuracy and
comprehensiveness. Questions requiring only basic content knowledge (e.g., terminology, volcano topology) received
more high scoring responses than questions requiring higher thinking and deeper conceptual connections (association
with plate tectonics, prediction of hazards and impacts on the environment). The mechanics of eruptions also appeared
to be poorly understood. Special attention was paid to students' alternate conceptions about where volcanoes are likely
to form. Male students, students highly interested in science, and students who lived in a volcanically active area
received significantly higher total scores than other student groups. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM) majors also performed significantly better than non-STEM majors. Understanding the nature of student
comprehension and misconception may be useful for geoscience educators seeking to address student preconceptions
and promote conceptual change.

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A Comparative Analysis of Online Learning Materials Aimed Toward Integrating Great Lakes Science Into the K-8 Classroom
Laura Eidietis, Elizabeth LaPorte, Sandra Rutherford
JGE, v. 58, n. 3, p. 188-196


We surveyed the use of Great Lakes online learning materials by a sample of K-8 teachers. Analyses tested for
correlation of use with 1) whether teachers learned about the resources in pre- or in-service education, 2) geographical
significance, and 3) whether teachers taught about the topics emphasized in the online learning materials. We compared
findings for the Great Lakes to an ocean resource (BRIDGE) and more general Earth System Science online learning
materials. Teachers reported using the Internet for teaching and planning. However, very few teachers reported using
Great Lakes materials, BRIDGE, and most of the generalized online learning materials. The exception was the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service webpage, used by >50% of respondents. Teachers
who learned how to use online learning materials in pre-service or in-service education were more likely to use them in-
service. There was no significant effect of geographic proximity to the Great Lakes or ocean on the likelihood that a
teacher used particular materials. Teaching about the Great Lakes was a necessary, but not sufficient condition for using
Great Lakes online learning materials. The results indicate that teacher education is a key to inclusion of specific online
learning materials in K-8 education.

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