Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 11:20 AM


BARTH-COHEN, Lauren, Center for Research in STEM Education, University of Maine, 5784 York Complex #1, Orono, ME 04469, SHEMWELL, Jonathan T., College of Education and Human Development, University of Maine, 330 Shibles Hall, Orono, ME 04469 and CAPPS, Daniel K., College of Education & Human Development, University of Maine, 324 Shibles Hall, Orono, ME 04469,

In this presentation we draw on a cognitive theory of learning in order to model teachers’ knowledge of a complicated geological environment. The setting for this research was a professional development workshop in which middle school science teachers investigated the geology at three different locations in order to build a series of increasingly sophisticated models of the geological history of three time periods (~400 mya, 200 mya, and 20,000ya).

This workshop took place as part of a five year National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Math and Science Partnership in a rural state in the eastern United States. The workshop ran for 17 hours over three days and was led by university faculty. Seventeen middle school science teachers participated. Data consisted of video and audio recordings of the teachers along with drawings and notes from their field notebooks. The workshop focused on the scientific practice of developing and revising models and included both fieldwork and classroom activities. While in the field teachers made observations of many geological features including intrusions, inclusions, chatter marks, glacial erratics, and glacial striations. They also learned about and applied important geological principles to make sense of their observations. The fieldwork is the focus of the current analysis.

In the analysis we model teachers’ knowledge resources of the geological environment using the Knowledge-in-Pieces theoretical frameworks. This theory of conceptual change focuses on ones’ prior conceptions playing a productive role in their learning. Through this perspective, learning is viewed as a process of recruiting and coordinating many pieces of knowledge within one’s complex knowledge system. This theoretical framework was developed in physics education and has not generally been applied to topics in geoscience education. It is a good fit for the current analysis given the myriad observations teachers made in this complicated field geology environment.

During the workshop many sources of evidence became problematized and we found that the teachers were adept at making connections between their prior knowledge and the specific phenomena observed. We model this relationship, and conclude with a discussion of how this model can be applied to other data of learning in complicated field environments.