2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM

Preservice Elementary Teachers' Conceptual Knowledge of the Earth: Results from the Geoscience Concept Inventory

PETCOVIC, Heather L., Department of Geosciences and The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 1903 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5241 and RUHF, Robert J., The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, heather.petcovic@wmich.edu

Effective instruction hinges in part on understanding what prior knowledge students bring to the classroom, and on evaluating how this knowledge changes during instruction. In this study, we utilized a 15-question version of the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI) to examine conceptual knowledge of geoscience topics among preservice elementary (K-8) teachers enrolled in a physical and historical geology course specifically designed for this population of undergraduate students. The course format consists of two, 2-hour and 20-minute sessions per week, dominated by laboratory activities, small group discussions and written assignments, and brief lectures integrated with whole class discussion. Regular readings and homework assignments accessed via an on-line system supplement the in-class learning. Specifically, we used identical versions of the GCI administered as a pretest and posttest to (1) examine the level of prior geoscience conceptual knowledge among these students, and (2) assess changes in conceptual knowledge among future elementary teachers enrolled in our course.

We found that the population of preservice elementary teachers in our study has the same pre-instructional concept knowledge of the geosciences as other undergraduates, as measured by the GCI. Pretest to posttest gains among all participants (n = 122) averaged 4%, similar to gains reported elsewhere. However, gains among participants enrolled in revised course sections (n = 84) averaged 7-8%. Detailed analysis of GCI items shows that statistically significant gains occurred on test items related to geologic time, earthquakes, radiometric dating, and tectonics. Items for which the greatest gains were observed correlate loosely with teaching method. Our analysis suggests that students need multiple opportunities in different formats, such as classroom activities, discussions, and supplemental reading materials, to develop a better understanding of geoscience concepts, and provides further evidence of the persistence of student prior knowledge in specific topics.