Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


ALTHEIDE, Ashley T.1, SCHMEISSER, Kristen E.1 and WRIGHT, Carrie2, (1)Department of Geology and Physics, University of Southern Indiana, 8600 University Boulevard, Evansville, IN 47712, (2)Geology and Physics Department, University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, IN 47712,

Spatial reasoning abilities are essential in several disciplines, such as geology, geography, and chemistry. In geoscience education, it is evident that undergraduate introductory geology students struggle to understand geological structures and maps. Despite prior exposure to lecture and homework, these students make consistent mistakes on lab activities and examinations. Previous workers have introduced resources that aim to develop and improve spatial reasoning skills, but these studies have not been directly related to geological structures and maps. This study aims to determine how the spatial reasoning skills of undergraduate physical geology students influence their interpretation and understanding of geological structures, to compare introductory geology students’ spatial abilities before and after formal lecture and labs on structural geology, and to create and assess new labs and methods that will help teach structural geology while improving students' spatial abilities. Three sections of undergraduate physical geology students were given two basic psychometric spatial ability tests prior to any formal lecture related to geological structures. The results of these tests were compared to each of the 54 student's evaluations on labs and exams involving geological structures, as well as a post-test of their spatial abilities. Data was separated by males and females to determine if any significant difference in spatial abilities between genders exists. At the end of the semester, results showed a statistically significant average increase in the students’ performance on one spatial reasoning test after formal lecture on structural geology. A statistically significant number of males tended to score higher on one test than the females, however, the females showed a larger statistically significant increase in the pre and post lecture test scores. These results conclude that performance on a spatial reasoning test improves with a physical geology course for a statistically significant number of students, and males do significantly better than females on a similar test. More detailed results of these comparisons will be presented, along with plans for future work to improve students' spatial abilities with the intention of improving science education in general, particularly geosciences education.