On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
Carleton College, Northfield, MN
Cutting Edge > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Matthew Nyman
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Matthew Nyman

Department of Earth and Planetary Science/Natural Science Program


Matthew Nyman
What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

Overcoming science phobia in non-majors. Evaluating aspects of the affective domain at the beginning of a class. Evaluating changes in the affective domain at the end of a class. The role of instructor personality in affecting student attitudes in university classrooms.

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

During my teaching career I have had a the good fortune to teach across the science education spectrum including two years of high school teaching, several introductory geology classes, 4 undergraduate core geology classes and three graduate classes. Although I was not explicitly addressing the affective domain I always felt that part of successful teaching was reaching students where they were in their own development, background and attitudes about the subject matter. For the last 8 years, I have worked with pre-service elementary teachers who represent a great challenge in terms of teaching science. Many of these students have poor academic skills, especially in math and science, and are reluctant if not averse to taking science courses, even those designed especially for their professional needs. This group is required to take only minimal courses in science and I would argue that in order to improve student achievement in science starting in elementary school it is imperative that we wisely use this opportunity to improve their scientific literacy and attitudes towards science. Lack of attention to this population may perpetuate the general lack of interest and wide spread misconceptions about science and the scientific process; they will not be effective teachers if we cannot address the role of the affective domain in our teaching. What I bring to this workshop is 1- a strong interest in learning more about the role of the affective domain in teaching science and 2- a wealth of experience and ideas about how to teach students who lack but require a strong background or interest in science.

Essay: Starting Off Right: Introducing Students to the Instructor and the Scientific Process

I teach a physical science course for pre-service elementary teachers that includes topics in physics, astronomy and earth science. For the past three semesters, I have been teaching the course with physics content covered through investigation of geologic processes. For example, I use seismology as an opportunity to learn about wave phenomena, and plate tectonics to understand a variety of concepts such as heat transfer, gravity, and Newtonian physics. The primary objective of this course is to provide standards-based content using a range of instructional strategies including direct instruction, hands-on activities, guided inquiry and student-driven inquiry. A second objective of the course is to address and affect the common negative attitudes that many of the students bring with them to the science classroom so that they don't carry those attitudes into their future classrooms. In this essay I will discuss one activity that I use to address this issue.

One of the first goals of my physical science class is to discuss the scientific method as a means for understanding natural processes and phenomena. I explain to my students that the basis of the scientific method is asking testable questions. I then explain that part of answering questions is to make accurate observations and generate inferences from the observations. To illustrate this process I conduct an activity called Do You Know Me?. I open this activity by explaining to the students that they are using scientific skills everyday when they make inferences or conclusions about other people based on simple observations; the big, muscular person must lift weights, the person in all black clothing is a Goth, etc. Next I ask the students a series of 10-15 questions about me, for example: "How old am I?", "Am I married?" (I usually take off my wedding ring), "Do I have children?", "What kind of car do I drive?", which they answer on a sheet of paper. I then provide answers to the questions, sometimes laced with humor; for example, I joke that answers about my age carry grade penalties if they guess too high. We also discuss the nature of the questions; which questions were easy to answer, which were hard, what evidence was used, what biases or preconceptions influenced their inferences (for example, many assume that the lack of a wedding ring indicates that I am single). We also discuss the fact that they do not generally test their hypotheses, perhaps their inferences would not hold up under further investigations. This simple exercise in observations is followed in the next class period by Earth Observations Day in which students use a variety of visualizations to recognize patterns in earth related phenomena (e.g., earthquake distribution, volcano distribution, crustal temperature distribution, air temperature distribution, etc.). The task for this activity is focused on making observations and recognizing patterns, two very important science skills and, though the Earth Science data is unfamiliar, these two activities are very 'do-able' by most students.

Anecdotal data and reports from student portfolios suggest that these and similar activities attend to the affective domain in several ways: 1- for Do You Know Me?, every student has experiences related to this illustration of the scientific process and therefore it is easy and non-threatening to be included in the activity; 2- Do You Know Me? also results in a higher comfort level between the students and instructor; 3- every student has some success in making observations and formulating inferences during the open-ended Earth Observation Day activity; 4- activities such as these set a positive tone for the class because the students feel successful having completed the activities while gaining insight into the process and skills of science, which improves their outlook on and interest in the rest of the course.

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