GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 249-6
Presentation Time: 9:20 AM


ARTHURS, Leilani A.1, KOWALSKI, Chelsie1 and ELWONGER, Justin2, (1)Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, 2200 Colorado Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309, (2)Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 330 Bessey Hall, P.O. Box 880340, Lincoln, NE 68588

Educating the public about groundwater supply problems and contamination assumes they have a basic conceptual understanding of groundwater. Unfortunately, such understanding is often absent. We describe the range of (mis)conceptions about groundwater that undergraduate students have before formal instruction on groundwater resources, illustrate how these (mis)conceptions are used as instructional tools, and discuss the impact using (mis)conceptions as instructional tools has on students’ learning.

From the learning sciences, we know that students come to the classroom with prior knowledge and experiences that shape their mental models about how the world around them works. These mental models are the basis for critical thinking and decision making. They, however, are often scientifically inaccurate. Improving understanding thus involves, in part, shifting novice-like conceptions of groundwater toward more expert-like ways of conceptualization. More expert-like conceptualizations of groundwater will aid the public in better understanding scientific communications about groundwater supply problems and contamination.

A (mis)conceptions-based week-long instructional sequence (i.e., three 50-minute class meetings) about groundwater was developed, implemented, and revised over six iterations of an introductory-level geoscience course offered over five years at two central US institutions of higher education. For the present study, the impact of this instructional sequence was evaluated for its ability to facilitate the development of students’ mental models about groundwater. Two different introductory-level geoscience courses at the same institution implemented the instructional sequence. Its impact was evaluated based on the analysis of matching pre- and post-instruction assessments for 61 students.

The diagrammatic and textual content analyses of students’ pre- and post-instruction assessments reveal the week-long instructional sequence had a significant impact (t-value = -23.4463, p-value < 0.00001) on changing students’ conceptions of groundwater, and helped students develop more expert-like conceptions of groundwater and aquifers. This finding suggests students’ (mis)conceptions used as instructional tools is a high-impact instructional practice.