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

Paper No. 304-11
Presentation Time: 11:30 AM


POUND, Kate S., Atmospheric & Hydrologic Sciences, St. Cloud State University, 720 Fourth Avenue South, St. Cloud, MN 56301, ROGERS, Michael, Sauk-Rapids-Rice Middle School, Sauk Rapids, MN 56379, BRATT, Kirstin R., Academic Learning Center, St. Cloud State University, Saint Cloud, MN 56301 and SUNDHEIM, Nancy K., Environmental and Technological Studies, Saint Cloud State University, Saint Cloud, MN 56301

One outcome of implementation of Backward Design (‘Understanding by Design’ by Wiggins & McTighe) by a Teacher-Faculty Learning Community has been the development of inquiry-based ‘Essential Questions’ for Middle School Earth Science and University General Education Geology courses. Essential Questions provide a mechanism for making meaning and engaging students. Essential Questions are characterized by their open ended, thought-provoking nature, ability to frame the topic, inherent connections to transferable concepts within and across disciplines, demand for perspective taking, and ability to not only recur throughout a course, but to generate new questions.

The Middle School questions frame three to four week learning modules. The questions include: ‘Is it more important to be creative or critical in your thinking when seeking the truth?’ (the nature of science inquiry), ‘To what extent can rocks speak to us? What are they saying?’ (petrology and historical geology), and ‘Would it be better to view the Earth as steady and constant, or restless and violent?’ (plate tectonics); these questions initially inspire discussion and engage students, who then undertake guided learning assignments, culminating in an assessment that includes students sharing their answers to the essential questions. In the University course, essential questions introduce topics; additional questions are used to frame lectures. Questions include ‘Is Earth organized, and if so, how?’ and ‘Does Earth recycle?’(geosphere structure and cycles); ‘Does landscape change over time and space, and if so, how?’ and ‘Why do we have mountains?’ (structural geology/tectonics/surface processes); as well as ‘Are earth resources evenly distributed?’ and ‘How would you explore for a Cu-Ni sulfide mine?’, ‘What are potential concerns surrounding such a mine?’(mineral resources). These questions engage students, build a sense of student misconceptions for the instructor, and then frame and direct understanding for assessments (laboratory exercises).

In both Middle School and University settings, instructors report improved satisfaction with their own ‘teaching’. Qualitative data shows students at both levels reported higher levels of engagement, working harder and learning more than they did in courses not using Essential Questions.