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. 5
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM

A Novel Conceptual Methodology for Teaching and Learning Dynamic Processes In the Geological Sciences

CLARK, Scott K.1, HEIDEMANN, Merle2, LIBARKIN, Julie C.1 and SIBLEY, Duncan F.1, (1)Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, 206 Natural Science Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, (2)Division of Science and Mathematics Education, Michigan State University, 118 N Kedzie Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, skclark@msu.edu

Students have trouble tracing matter through complex Earth systems (e.g., water cycle, carbon cycle, plate tectonics), especially when either matter is not observable, such as groundwater, or when processes, such as phase changes, are not apparent. Students are more comfortable with concepts of matter than with processes linking matter, and previous attempts to focus learning on these processes have not been entirely successful. Also, rather than constraining ideas within a framework of reasoned principles and conceptualizing the entirety of a system, many students only remember isolated pieces of information. Traditional teaching of Earth's systems as separate entities does not capitalize on the compounded benefit of using a principled, reasoning-based framework that provides continuity between these seemingly disparate systems. We submit that students' conceptual understanding of Earth systems can be improved by encouraging principled reasoning via a few simple, guiding questions. By answering these questions in the context of a structured sentence format (i.e., a linear concept map), students are prompted to produce complete and explicit explanations for each process. Stacking of these linear concept maps produces a complete picture of the system itself. This methodology provides a structure through which students are guided as they investigate how matter moves and changes. It encourages students to avoid over-reliance on technical terms and when teamed with box-and-arrow diagrams helps students to visualize each of the steps that constitute a cycle. As an example, we demonstrate the application of this framework to a complicated hypothetical question within the carbon cycle and present student rendered linear concept maps and box-and-arrow diagrams. Having a single framework that applies across systems has significant benefits, including transferability of skills and application of principled reasoning to both scientific issues and to life outside a science classroom.