2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


MORGAN, Paul, Department of Geology, Northern Arizona Univ, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, Paul.Morgan@nau.edu

Planetary sciences and geology provide a rich opportunity to present students with opportunities to become excited about learning scientific methodology, physics, earth sciences, astronomy, chemistry, biology, engineering, writing and oral presentation, critical thinking, teamwork, social studies, and current affairs. They also provide an opportunity to inflict death by lecture with endless lists of boring geographic place names, acronyms, and Latin names. They can be almost as stimulating as the “State Standards,” dry lists of topics that many States require teachers to cover at different grade levels.

While ostensibly teaching content-based courses to in-service middle and high-school teachers during the past few summers, these teachers have helped me reformulate my material into inquiry-based courses so that they can take back not only the content, but also the teaching techniques to their classrooms. I have been able to use the same techniques in large introductory undergraduate lab-lecture sections with significantly improved voluntary class attendance and participation.

Formally presented conclusions from content delivery are kept to a minimum. For example, I present an image with small pictures of the planets and name them, but make no further inferences. I hand the students graph paper with a list of the radii, masses and densities of the planets and ask the students to plot radius vs. density, discuss their results in small groups, then divide up the planets into groups according to the results of their plots. The Inner Planets always falls out as a group, but few are happy with the Outer Planets as a single group, which is a good result. Pluto shows as a loner. This simple exercise sets that tone for class participation throughout the semester.

Wherever there is a conclusion, a content evaluation process is involved. Often this process is data evaluation (e.g., density and melting temperature to form anorthosite), but this inquiry method may be applied to any aspect of the content, such as the social implications of space exploration or the mixed scientific/sociological benefits of robotic vs. human space exploration. With a little creativity a large number of teaching “standards,” both scientific and non-scientific, can be covered using these learner-centered inquiry-based teaching techniques.