March 2010 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 58, Number 2

Editorial: Uncertainty Is Part of Inquiry
Kristen St. John
JGE, v. 58, n. 2 p. 51-51
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Commentary: Object and Spatial Visualization in Geosciences
Kim Kastens
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 52-57


Cognitive science research shows that the brain has two systems for processing visual information, one specialized for spatial information such as position, orientation, and trajectory, and the other specialized for information used to identify objects, such as color, shape and texture. Some individuals seem to be more facile with the spatial visualization system, while others favor the object visualization system. This commentary hypothesizes that geosciences draw heavily on both systems, in contrast to other studied professions whose practitioners tend to be strong at spatial visualization (e.g. physics), or object visualization (e.g. visual arts). Candidate object visualization tasks in geosciences include identifying rocks, minerals and fossils, and interpreting remote sensing images. Candidate spatial visualization tasks include envisioning the folding and faulting of sedimentary strata, and envisioning a 3-D volume from 2-D data. In general education, geoscience activities rich in object-visualization could provide an opportunity to motivate and empower a population—object visualizers—who may have disliked prior science courses. In the education of geoscience specializers, a challenge is to find instructional supports to strengthen the object visualization skills of spatial visualizers, and the spatial visualization skills of object visualizers, to produce graduates with both competencies.

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Expanding Evolutionary Theory Beyond Darwinism with Elaborating, Self-Organizing, and Fractioning Complex Evolutionary Systems
Lynn S. Fichter, E.J. Pyle, S.J. Whitmeyer
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 58-64


Earth systems increase in complexity, diversity, and interconnectedness with time, driven by tectonic/solar energy that keeps the systems far from equilibrium. The evolution of Earth systems is facilitated by three evolutionary mechanisms: elaboration, fractionation, and self-organization, that share universality features not found in more familiar equilibrium systems. These features include: 1. evolution to sensitive dependent critical states, 2. avalanches of changes following power law distributions with fractal organization, and 3. dynamic behaviour as strange attractors that often exhibit bi-stable behaviour. We propose a new approach to teaching Earth systems theory, where theoretical underpinnings of evolutionary mechanisms are introduced, followed by explorations of how the mechanisms interact to integrate the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere into a unitary evolutionary system. We incorporate conceptual and computer-based interactive models (included here as educational resources) within our lesson plans that illustrate a hierarchy of principles and experimental outcomes for evolutionary mechanisms. Application of this educational framework requires explicating complex systems mechanisms and their interactions, exploring their applicability to Earth systems, and imbedding them in high school as well as college introductory and upper level Earth Science classrooms to put all Earth systems on a comprehensive, integrated, universal evolutionary theoretical foundation.

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Strategies and Rubrics for Teaching Chaos and Complex Systems Theories as Elaborating, Self-Organizing, and Fractioning Evolutionary Systems
Lynn S. Fichter, E.J. Pyle, S.J. Whitmeyer
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 65-85

To say Earth systems are complex, is not the same as saying they are a complex system. A complex system, in the technical sense, is a group of ―agents‖ (individual interacting units, like birds in a flock, sand grains in a ripple, or individual units of friction along a fault zone), existing far from equilibrium, interacting through positive and negative feedbacks, forming interdependent, dynamic, evolutionary networks, that possess universality properties common to all complex systems (bifurcations, sensitive dependence, fractal organization, and avalanche behaviour that follows power-law distributions.)
Chaos/complex systems theory behaviors are explicit, with their own assumptions, approaches, cognitive tools, and models that must be taught as deliberately and systematically as the equilibrium principles normally taught to students. We present a learning progression of concept building from chaos theory, through a variety of complex systems, and ending with how such systems result in increases in complexity, diversity, order, and/or interconnectedness with time—that is, evolve. Quantitative and qualitative course-end assessment data indicate that students who have gone through the rubrics are receptive to the ideas, and willing to continue to learn about, apply, and be influenced by them. The reliability/validity is strongly supported by open, written student comments.

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Earthquake Emergency Education in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Solmaz Mohadjer, Rebecca Bendick, Sarah J. Halvorson, Umed Saydullaev, Orifjon Hojiboev, Christine Stickler, Zachary R. Adam
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 86-94

We developed a middle school earthquake science and hazards curriculum to promote earthquake awareness to students in the Central Asian country of Tajikistan. These materials include pre- and post-assessment activities, six science activities describing physical processes related to earthquakes, five activities on earthquake hazards and mitigation strategies, and a codification art/literacy project. This curriculum was implemented with 43 middle school students in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in the winter of 2008. We examine the effectiveness of each curriculum component in communicating the causes, effects, and mitigation strategies associated with earthquakes to young people, and find significant improvements in seismic and earthquake hazards literacy as a result of the program.

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Science in the Mountains: A Unique Research Experiment to Enhance Diversity in the Geosciences
A. Gannet Hallar, Ian B. McCubbin, Brittan Hallar, Roger Levine, William R. Stockwell, Jimena P. Lopez, Jennifer M. Wright
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 95-100

Ethnic and racial minorities constitute an important part of the geosciences community because of their diverse perspectives and backgrounds. However, the geosciences have the poorest diversity record of all the science and engineering fields. Recruitment of minorities is important and numerous programs are focusing on engaging students in geosciences during their undergraduate schooling. The Geoscience Research at Storm Peak (GRASP) program provides a model for retaining students in the geosciences pipeline and encouraging students' interest in geoscience careers. GRASP offers college age students research experiences in urban and rural environments, introduces students to a wide range of geosciences career options, and connects students to mentors and role models. The main challenge associated with the GRASP program in its first year was recruitment. This paper uses the Geoscience Pipeline Model as a framework for evaluating the program's success. GRASP not only exposed the students to a variety of geosciences careers, but it also taught them skills used by geosciences professionals. Overall, GRASP participants demonstrated a positive change in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to the pipeline indicators.

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One-Week Module on Stochastic Groundwater Modeling
David C. Mays
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 101-109

This article describes a one-week introduction to stochastic groundwater modeling, intended for the end of a first course on groundwater hydrology, or the beginning of a second course on stochastic hydrogeology or groundwater modeling. The motivation for this work is to strengthen groundwater education, which has been identified among the factors contributing to the lack of stochastic groundwater modeling in professional consulting practice. The educational objectives are for students to (1) define key terminology, (2) explain spatial correlation, (3) produce realizations of groundwater flow, and (4) critique deterministic groundwater models. This one-week module includes a reading assignment, a class presentation, a guided computer exercise, and a homework assignment. The module introduces students to a few basic terms and concepts, then gives them experience through hands-on computer exercises. This article includes a detailed lesson plan and homework assignment, and complete model inputs and solutions are provided. The guided computer exercise and the homework assignment are performed using the freely available software Processing Modflow for Windows (PMWIN). Submitted homework assignments demonstrate that students were able to transfer skills from the module to a new application, and through an assessment survey, students reported significant improvement in their ability to perform three of the four educational objectives.

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Lessons on the Role of Fun/Playfulness from a Geology Undergraduate Summer Research Program
Olga S. Jarrett, Pamela Burnley
JGE, v. 58, n. 2, p. 110-120

This paper examines past and current experiences with fun and playfulness of participants in two summers of an NSF funded summer research experiences for undergraduates (REU) geosciences program. Thirty students responded to questionnaires on the role of play in their previous learning and their playful, inspirational, or "ah-ha" feelings while doing their summer research. They reported a sense of playfulness during science classes, promoted by engagement with interesting phenomena, ability to work independently, and a relaxed atmosphere. Their descriptions of playfulness in the program were similar to those of scientists describing playfulness while doing research. They described the fun of the work itself, the opportunities for playful social interactions with peers, and excitement at finding results. Implications for science education involve the inclusion of playfulness and fun in the modeling of scientific inquiry and the structuring of science classes and labs to allow more students‟ input into their own learning, the provision of field experiences, and the allowance of some socialization.

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