2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM


SEXTON, Julie M., Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute, University of Northern Colorado, Ross Hall 1210, Campus Box 123, Greeley, CO 80639, julie.sexton@unco.edu

Rivers are important geologic processes that shape Earth's landscape. Little research has focused on students' conceptions of rivers. This study investigated college students' conceptions of river topics. A basic interpretive qualitative research design was used. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit 24 college students from an introductory geology class. In-depth interviews were conducted. Interview responses were analyzed using a modified version of constant comparative analysis.

Students held conceptions for nine river topics and 17 subtopics. Topics contained one or more subtopics. Students' conceptions for the subtopics were classified into scientific and alternative categories. The subtopics were categorized as observable feature, observable process/cause, difficult to observe feature, or difficult to observe process/cause. Some features and processes/causes were both observable and difficult to observe.

The subtopics for which students did not hold any alternative conceptions fell into two categories: observable features and observable processes/causes. With one exception, students held alternative conceptions for river processes/causes, many of which were completely or partially difficult to observe. The one exception was that one student held an alternative conception for a feature (destination of rivers) that was categorized as a difficult to observe feature for the student.

Multiple factors may simultaneously influence the conceptual development process. A student's direct experience with natural phenomena may increase a student's understanding of those phenomena. Additionally, college students' mental models of geologic phenomena may be inadequate for them to understand some geologic processes and features. It is not possible to determine from the data collected in this study if a lack of direct experience, inappropriate mental models, or some other factor influenced the students' development of alternative conceptions for river processes/causes and difficult to observe features. Future research should further investigate the possible factors that influence students' conceptual development and the interaction among the factors.