2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 9-10
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM


DOLPHIN, Glenn R., Dept. of Geoscience, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada and BENOIT, Wendy, Chemistry, University of Calgary, 2500 University Ave. NW, Calgary, AB T2N1N4, Canada, gdolphin@ucalgary.ca

We observed five undergraduate education students as they experienced inquiry rich, historically contextualized instruction. The focus of instruction was the historical development of the theory of plate tectonics. Activities included comparing different historical models of earth dynamics (porous earth, contracting earth, continental drift, and expanding earth), exploring an earthquake machine, and using maps of seafloor data for constructing tectonic plate boundaries. With a model-based-learning framework, we analyzed observation field notes, participants’ recorded conversations and written products of the activities and discerned instances of arrested model development. For example, participants described tectonic plates (inconsistent with science) as entities separated in space, which can “smash together” or “break apart”. We explain this common, description as an artifact of the use of a scientific metaphor; the tectonic “plate”. Our common, and powerful experience with ceramic plates is that they are separate in space, can break apart (when dropped), or can smash together (when pushed). Our brain defaults to such experiences when we use the metaphor, hiding aspects of the concept without our knowing. Participants also showed difficulty developing a model of rocks deforming elastically (the source of earthquakes). We assert that based on student experiences that rocks and/or “plates” are rigid and brittle, the idea of their elastic properties is a premature concept; meaning, students cannot connect this concept in a few, simple, logical steps to their own knowledge base (Stent, 2002). These two frameworks, the use of scientific metaphors and prematurity, show promise in understanding why students experience difficulties learning scientific concepts. They also afford structure to three possible interventions (and topics for future study): 1) the use of new metaphors with fewer limitations and 2) explicit exposure of limitations, and 3) design of a “few, simple, logical steps” to connect “premature” concepts to students’ prior knowledge.
  • History as a tool.pptx (36.0 MB)