On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Rates, Dates and Geologic Time: Teaching about the Temporal Aspects of Geoscience
Cutting Edge > Rates and Time > Workshop Synthesis

Synthesis of Key Ideas from the 2012 Workshop

This web page is based on a discussion at the conclusion of the 2012 workshop on Teaching About Time. The information presented here summarizes the thinking of workshop participants.

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1. Understanding geologic time and rates is important, not only for geoscientists but for citizens of the planet. An understanding of the length of geologic time and the brevity of humans' existence is essential to understanding our place in the universe. Comparing the rate of change in Earth systems related to human activities and the rates associated with natural (non-anthropogenic) processes is fundamental to understanding how our actions affect the environment upon which we depend. Comprehending the depth of geologic time is a prerequisite for understanding:

As is the case with human history, understanding the history of the Earth allows us to make use of the past to evaluate the wisdom of particular actions and their ramifications for our future. For example, this teaching activity on timescales of climate change introduces students to the fact that climate change occurs at timescales of 1 year to 108 years and there are various drivers to explain these changes. It addresses how scientists detect these scales of climate change in the geologic record. Students, using what they learn, are then asked to evaluate the potential drivers of climate change since the Industrial Revolution.

2. Understanding geologic time is cognitively challenging.

3. While there has not been much research on best practices in teaching about time, there are many diverse and promising strategies available.

4. Measuring student understanding of temporal concepts is challenging, but essential. We have attempted to help others by developing

Developing such goals and assessments is work in progress, and we encourage our colleagues to develop and share your own assessments of temporal learning.


Chi, M.T.H., 2008, Three types of conceptual change: Belief revision, mental model transformation, and categorical shift, In Vosniadou, S., editor, Handbook of research on conceptual change, Hillsdale, NJ, Erlbaum, 740 p.

Gobert, J.D., 2000, A typology of causal models for plate tectonics: Inferential power and barriers to understanding, International Journal of Science Education, v. 22, p. 937- 977.

Jee, B.D., D. Uttal, D. Gentner, C. Manduca, T. Shipley, B. Sageman, C.J. Ormand, & B. Tikoff (2010). Analogical thinking in geoscience education, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 58, n. 1, pp. 2-13.

Taber, K.S., 2003, Mediating mental models of metals: Acknowledging the priority of the learner's prior learning, Science Education, v. 87, p. 732-758.

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