Cutting Edge > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Michelle Kinzel
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Michelle Kinzel

Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University

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?

The key issues I would like to engage at the workshop are implenting methods and activities that appeal to a variety of learning styles, and reinforce concepts in a myriad of ways, encouraging the learning of geoscience concepts in a diverse and stimulating variety of methods. I would like to explore methods for engaging and involving every student in a dynamic and collaborative process of learning.

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?

I have a plethora of teaching experience, in traditional settings as a science teacher and community college instructor in the life sciences, as well as numerous endeavors in free choice learning. I have served as a wilderness trip leader, museum science course developer and instructor, independent curriculum development contracter and even a "teacher of teachers" mentoring 70 teachers in the acquisiton of geospatial skills and mastery of technologies applicable to the teaching of geosciences in middle and high school curriculums. I have experience in the development and delivery of curriculum materials from a wide range of subjects, appropriate for a broad span of ages, aptitudes and abilities. I specialize in desgining hands on, interactive activities that reinforce traditional learning methodolgies of reading, writing and problem set style approaches. I would like to explore the use of group teaching, with the instructor serving the role of facilitator of learning, and the use of GIS in approaching real world problems of conservation and conflict resolution related to land management issues. I would be interested in contributing a learning session on the use of GIS, developing materials and leading a workshop based activity on the basics of GIS in curriculum development.

Essay - Dynamic Learning Processes: Avoiding Cognitive Drift

Students have a tendency to experience cognitive drift, tuning out, daydreaming, doodling and checking out of the learning process in classes that do not actively engage them or encourage participation. Studies have shown that the maximum attention span for activities that rely solely or primarily on listening skills is no more than 40 minutes for the average adult. My experience as a student and educator indicate to me that the reality is likely even shorter than that. Passively experiencing the dissemination of information, as in a traditional lecture, has been proved to be one of the least effective means of learning and integrating new concepts, yet it is the standard in many modalities of education, especially higher education. The study of geosciences relies heavily on laboratories and hands on activities, yet the volume and prevalence of "talking head" lectures indicates a reliance on archaic methods of pedagogy which are comparatively less effective.

In considering the design of a course for the study of Earth Sciences, it is important to incorporate activities and resources that appeal to a variety of learning styles. Students improve logical thinking skills when they participate in challenging learning exercises with more intellectually sophisticated peers (McConnell, 2005). The affective domain is essential to the learning process, yet teaching with a consideration of feelings, emotions, and degrees of acceptance or rejection is not common, especially in the sciences. Yet, with creative planning and thought, it is possible and preferable to design teaching activities that speak to interests, attitudes, appreciations, values and even emotional states or biases. Most career paths and life long passions are rooted in subject matter and course work that involved this type of teaching. It is essential to not just attempt to deliver information at the base of the learning hierarchy, but to strive to get active participation from the student, evoking responses, values, processing and organizing of information in ways that are applicable to experiences outside the classroom. With this approach, the learning experience can transcend course objectives, and produce individuals who consider themselves an integral part of the geosciences community at large, with the emergence of self proclaimed environmentalists, geologists and geographers.

The tangible nature of geoscience material makes them excellent venues for collaborative and active learning projects (Harris, 2002) . For the deliverance of core course content, I employ a multi faceted approach to topic coverage. I typically introduce material in a standard lecture format with visual aids and some discussion, appealing to the traditional student that seeks guidance and familiarity in the educational process. I then proceed to a guided discovery or canned exercise that involves the cognitive task of responding and following directions. To move on to the cognitive involvement of valuing and organizing, I introduce students to an open ended problem set or task building upon what they learned in the guided exercise. And finally, to encourage an overarching application of the material and cognitive approach, I organize students into groups or assign presentations so that each student teaches the others and has the opportunity to learn from their peers. This process requires higher order thinking and processing of the information and core contents, fully utilizing all aspects of the cognitive domain. There is also a great value in sharing information with each other, and a richness and diversity of collaboration that is far more enriching than the traditional lecture style format of disseminating information.


Harris, Mark. 2002. Developing geoscience student-learning centered courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 50, n. 5. pp. 515-523.

McConnell, D. et. Al. 2005. How students think: implications for learning in introductory geoscience courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, n. 4. pp. 462-470.

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