• 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. 3
Presentation Time: 2:05 PM


CERVATO, Cinzia, Dept. of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University, 253 Science I, Ames, IA 50011, MANDUCA, Cathryn A., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057, MOGK, David W., Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, ORMAND, Carol J., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College St, Northfield, MN 55057, SHIPLEY, Thomas F., Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122 and SMRECAK, Trisha A., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850,

The NSF-funded ‘On the Cutting Edge’ project organized a series of 5 monthly, one-hour long virtual meetings in spring 2011 to discuss readings from the geoscience and cognitive science literature. The goal of the journal clubs was to explore the cognitive underpinning of understanding geologic time, one of the most significant yet elusive concepts for students in geoscience courses.

Participants from the geosciences and beyond reported similar temporal learning challenges for audiences ranging from formal (both secondary and collegiate) to informal learning environments. This group recognized several key areas where cognitive science and education research shed light on our ability to teach about temporal concepts in the geosciences. Time may be processed cognitively using the same brain functions as space, i.e. we literally may think about time as a type of space. Thus, analogy with space is a powerful tool for teaching about geologic time and research on analogic thinking provides important insights into the design of curriculum. In specific, four areas were recognized as worth of further exploration: 1) the use of hierarchically nested, scaled time lines on different orders of magnitude to develop a sense of scale for geologic time; 2) the importance of using geologic events to anchor time lines in temporal space; 3) the need to bring rates and time scales together to understand the impact of geologic processes; and 4) the identification of rates, fluxes, reservoir time, frequency, magnitude, duration, recurrence interval, etc. as temporal concepts that are fundamental to understanding geologic processes and history, but present major barriers to learning.

Descriptions of common temporal learning challenges, their cognitive roots, and research-based strategies recommended for addressing them can be found online at These findings highlight temporal concepts, how experts and novices differ in their approach to and understanding of these concepts, and how we can help our students to progress toward expert modes of temporal thinking. They further highlight the importance of understanding geologic time to contextualize today's rates of global change.

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