IMPLEMENTATION OF BACKWARD DESIGN AND ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS IN EARTH SCIENCE CURRICULA
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.