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. 11
Presentation Time: 4:00 PM

The Relationship Between Students' Confidence and Conceptual Understanding of Plate Tectonics

LIBARKIN, Julie, Department of Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824 and CLARK, Scott, Department of Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, 206 Natural Science Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, libarkin@ohio.edu

The Theory of Plate Tectonics is widely considered to be the most important and transformative theory in modern geology. In many ways, plate tectonic processes drive a significant number of Earth's systems, and the importance of plate tectonics has been recognized in K-16 standards and benchmarks for learning. As a result of infusion into the elementary and secondary curriculum, many students enter college with some prior exposure to plate tectonics concepts. Prior research has identified a suite of alternative conceptions held by undergraduates, particularly non-majors. Emerging work is illuminating the entrenchment of these ideas across educational level. We report here an analysis of the links between non-science major students' conceptions and confidence, including interaction between demographics, confidence level, and existence of alternative conceptions. These student data are also compared to pilot results from majors, graduate students, and professional geologists. Preliminary findings suggest that students generally report low confidence when discussing topics for which they have not had prior exposure, such as melting in the lithosphere and asthenosphere, but over report confidence in their knowledge when responding to questions about familiar concepts, such as subduction. Our findings reaffirm the critical need to explicitly discuss students' pre-existing ideas within the context of instruction, both during introduction of scientific models and in order to combat the most strongly held alternative conceptions.