Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:15 AM
TEACHING GEOLOGIC STRUCTURES IN AN INTRODUCTORY GEOLOGY CLASSROOM: STUDENT MISCONCEPTIONS, DIFFICULTIES, AND SPATIAL REASONING SKILLS
Comprehension of geologic structures is an important part of introductory physical geology courses for college students regardless of their major. Informal surveys and teacher observations indicate that many students find geologic structures the most difficult section of a physical geology course. Geologic structures require the use of spatial reasoning more so than any other topic in an introductory physical geology class, and most other general education courses. The rewards for students learning structures are many, as are the drawbacks. Students get the chance to use and possibly improve their spatial reasoning skills, so important in basic life skills such as map reading. Students also understand more about their planet and are able to integrate all the major concepts they have learned throughout the semester. Geology majors are exposed to concepts they will see frequently in upper level courses. Negative aspects of teaching geologic structures and maps to predominantly non-majors include the higher incidence of struggling and complaints, common student misconceptions, and the amount of time required to properly teach these relatively complex concepts. An analysis of student (n = 45) lab (from a published and commonly used lab manual) and test (instructor-generated) questions pertaining to geologic structures and maps was performed to determine thinking skills required for each, the frequency and types of mistakes students make, and the source of common misconceptions. Lab and test questions required predominantly recognition, recall, and spatial abilities such as visualizing 3D objects and mentally rotating them. Common student misconceptions included misplacing geologic map symbols, incorrectly drawing faults, mistaking unfolded block diagrams as two-dimensional surfaces, and using cross-section rules to identify structures in map view. Diagrams, unclear instructions and the order of questions in the lab manual used can explain several of these misconceptions. Instructors must closely examine published labs and their own test questions to minimize the potential for student misconceptions. Discomfort can lead to learning, but instructors must prevent student discomfort from becoming frustration and the urge to give up.