• 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. 12
Presentation Time: 4:20 PM


BOXERMAN, Jonathan Z. and HORN, Michael S., Learning Sciences, Northwestern University, 2120 Campus Drive, Annenberg Hall, Evanston, IL 60208,

Grasping that the Earth changes due to a complex blend of gradual and sudden processes that operate far outside a human lifetime is a big idea that is difficult to understand. As educators and designers we need to be creative in finding ways to help learners think about the past and predict the future. We propose to share some innovative ideas about how to help learners comprehend changes over time and space on a geological scale. We ask the research question: What happens when virtual and physical models are combined to support temporal and spatial learning?

We draw from data collected in a sixth grade geosciences classroom, during the 2010-2011 school year. Two specific modeling activities are considered: a field trip about earthquakes and a hands-on activity about erosion. On the field trip, students saw a seismometer embedded in a geology department basement. They were tasked with generating earthquake data by jumping, similar to Moher’s (2006) “RoomQuake” design. Then, they reasoned from the spatial data represented in real time on a digital seismograph. Students eagerly went between floors to make earthquakes, dashing to the monitor to see what they had created. This activity motivated students to self-organize and direct their own learning. Questions emerged about how waves move through space and how seismometers work. The following day in class, students asked to build their own seismometers, adding unexpected value. The other case involves a laboratory activity in which students used stream tables to model erosional processes. This activity culminated when the teacher showed a time-lapse video of a stream table, which compressed three hours of erosion into a 90-second clip. The ensuing discussion about scaling time and space suggests students were starting to see how gradual change sums to more noticeable change over time.

A preliminary analysis of our data suggests coupling virtual and physical models can motivate and scaffold learning spatial and temporal geoscience concepts. Other researchers have also found that coupling models helps learners traverse difficult science terrain (e.g., “bridging analogies” Clement, 1993; “bifocal modeling” Blikstein, 2007). Implications for the design of learning environments will be discussed.

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