Active Learning Via Earth Science Posters

RACHEL BEANE ( is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Science and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME. She is the 2018 recipient of the NAGT Neil Miner award for "exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth Sciences."

Teaching is more effective when students are active participants in their learning. The posters here introduce to educators active learning strategies that may be readily adopted into a variety of class settings to expand the ways in which we engage students and enhance their ability to learn. Originally created for sessions at the National Association of Geoscience Teachers' sponsored On the Cutting Edge Workshop for Early Career Geoscience Faculty, the posters were crafted to introduce evidence-based approaches and guide Earth educators toward designing classes that routinely engage students in active learning. They illustrate strategies such as ConcepTest, Cooperative Exam, Gallery Walk, Jigsaw, Minute Paper, Think-Pair-Share, and Wrapper, introducing active learning strategies, presenting Earth science examples, communicating the steps needed to implement the techniques, describing advantages of the strategies, and providing relevant references.

Active Learning

Studies across the sciences have demonstrated that student learning and performance in classes are improved when students are active participants (e.g., Freeman et al., 2014; National Research Council, 2012; Prince, 2004). The amount of time students are active participants need not be extensive; short two to three-minute activities after twelve- to eighteen minutes of lecture have been demonstrated to improve student understanding and retention (Wenzel, 1999). ConcepTest, Minute Paper, and Think-Pair-Share are strategies that may take only a few minutes in class or that may be structured to engage students for longer. Strategies such as the Cooperative Exam, Gallery Walk and Jigsaw engage students in cooperative and collaborative learning for extended periods of time, up to a full class period or longer. The benefits of such cooperative learning are highlighted by Johnson and Johnson (1999): "When efforts are structured cooperatively, there is considerable evidence that students will exert more effort to achieve, learn more, use higher-level reasoning strategies more frequently, build more complete and complex conceptual structures, and retain information learned more accurately" (p. 73).

Use of Posters

Cooperative learning methods work not only in classes, but also to engage workshop participants in exploring new strategies in the use of Earth science active learning posters. Since being created for an On the Cutting Edge workshop, the posters have been used in workshops for SAGE 2YC Change Agents, Bowdoin College faculty, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science graduate students. Within workshop sessions, the posters have been used as a gallery walk, as a jigsaw exercise, and as a reference for participants designing their own active learning exercises. When used as a Gallery Walk, the posters were hung around the room with a blank piece of paper adjacent to the posters; groups rotated through the posters and wrote comments on the paper with questions or ideas for how they might incorporate the strategy in their own learning. When used as a Jigsaw, the posters were hung around the room with a number in the corner. Participants counted off, went to the poster with the same number, and with their team learned about and discussed the strategy on their poster, after which they recombined in a new group with each member representing a different poster in order to consider together how various active learning strategies might be applied to the introductory course topic that was specified for their group.


The posters present information drawn from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers Teach the Earth web pages on "Expanding Your Teaching Toolkit" compiled by Carol Ormand and from a session by the same name led at the 2014 Workshop for Early Career Geoscience Faculty by Karen Kortz and Sarah Penniston-Dorland. Development of the posters and workshop sessions were supported in part by the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education under grants DUE-1022844 and DUE-1022910. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this work are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Francek, M., Gallery walks, in Starting Point: Teaching entry level geoscience: (retrieved November 30, 2018).

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., and Wenderoth, M.P. , 2014. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 111, no. 23), 8410-8415.

Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T., 1999, Making cooperative learning work, Theory into Practice, v. 38, no. 2, p. 67-73.

National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Early career geoscience faculty: Teaching, research, and managing your career, in Teach the Earth, (retrieved November 30, 2018).

National Research Council, 2012, Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Ormand, C. Expanding your teaching toolkit, in Teach the Earth, html (retrieved November 30, 2018).

Prince, M., 2004, Does active learning work? A review of the research: Journal of Engineering Education, v. 93, no. 3, p. 223-231.

Tewksbury, B., Jigsaws, in Starting Point: Teaching entry level geoscience: (retrieved November 30, 2018).

Wenzel, T.J., 1999, The lecture as a learning device: Analytical Chemistry v. 71, p. 817-819.