• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM


HARRIS, Sara, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada and GILLEY, Brett, Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, 2020, Earth Sciences Building, 2207 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada,

“Invention activities” are learning opportunities through which students recognize and develop deep, underlying structure for themselves (Schwartz and Martin, 2004). Often these activities are constructed with contrasting cases (for example, several different objects that might or might not be minerals), selected or designed to encompass the relevant variability and help students notice critical features. This approach differs from (and essentially reverses) the more common “tell-and-practice” sequence in teaching and learning, in which an expert solution is presented, then students practice applying it. The “invention” approach has also been shown to improve retention and transfer.

We developed four activities for a university-level introductory earth science lab course that have the features of invention activities. In two of these, students create classification schemes for (1) minerals and (2) rocks, based on prior knowledge and observations of contrasting hand samples. In the other two, students invent math to (1) quantify biodiversity and (2) estimate distances based on paired arrival times, an analog for estimating distances to earthquake epicenters. Invention activities often have an overlying cover story that differs from the ultimate intended application. Our earthquakes (arrival times) activity fits this description, but the other three directly use materials (e.g. minerals and rocks) or terms (e.g. biodiversity) that relate to the learning topic. Pre-post assessments of learning show the strongest learning gains for the two activities with the least direct instruction and most carefully constructed contrasting cases: minerals, and biodiversity. For these two activities respectively, 74% and 69% of students who missed the relevant assessment question on the start-of-term pre-test, answered correctly on the end-of-term post-test. These learning gains are stronger than gains for the rocks activity, at about 40%. The earthquakes activity has not yet been assessed. All these activities use simple materials and are easy to set up and facilitate.

Schwartz, D. L., and T. Martin, 2004. Inventing to Prepare for Future Learning: The Hidden Efficiency of Encouraging Original Student Production in Statistics Instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 22(2), 129-184.

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