Lessons Learned from Decades of GeoEd Reform

Posted: Apr 19 2016 by Kim Kastens

I was invited to speak on a panel at the recent workshop on Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics. No, I haven't suddenly become an expert on math education. The panel was invited to share lessons learned from reform of undergraduate education in other STEM disciplines, and I was there to represent Geosciences.

I was allotted 10 minutes–and one ppt slide– to convey the essence of what our community has learned in 20 years or more of plugging away at this challenge. With some help from friends, I put together a set of suggestions, which appears below in slightly edited form. I'd be interested to hear what others think have been our lessons learned. More

Put a little ART in your eARTh science!

Posted: Mar 7 2016 by David W. Mogk, Dept. Earth Sciences, Montana State University

Put a little ART in your eARTh science!

C.P. Snow famously wrote about "The Two Cultures"[1]—that great divide between the sciences and humanities. Snow argued that the inability of scientists/engineers and scholars of the arts/humanities to communicate was a major barrier to addressing the grand challenges that face humanity. Scientists/engineers may be derided on one hand because we do not have instant recall of the "canon" of great works of literature, have not read Foucault or Feyerabend, or are not up to date with post-modern literary theory. On the other hand, how many non-scientists understand the fundamentals of DNA and PCR used as evidence in their favorite CSI television show, understand evolution and natural selection as related to the antibiotics they use, or understand the tenets of plate tectonics and the potential impacts on personal and societal safety (Will Durant: Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.)? But let's not get bogged down in a tit-for-tat about who knows what, and what discipline is more important. I'm here to affirm the importance of integrating the Arts and Humanities in the conduct and teaching of Science and Engineering.

In my career, I have had the opportunity to integrate Art and Science in a number of different ways in my classes, and I have been personally and professionally enriched by the experiences. I certainly have no personal artistic abilities. I never was able to produce more than neo-primitive stick figures in my childhood drawings (even now) and I am color blind. But my life as a scientist has been greatly impacted by my association with my colleagues in the Arts and Humanities in ways that have been fun, revealing, profound and even career-changing. Early in my career I had the opportunity to teach in our Honors Program in a course called Texts and Critics where we explored the topics of Knowledge, Love and Power as represented in the great literary works of our culture (yes, "the canon"). What I learned from my colleagues in the Arts and Humanities is the importance of deep, critical reading of primary texts, and I also learned from the instructional methods practiced by my colleagues to help students find, communicate, and reflect on meaning in these great works. If this pedagogy worked in the Humanities I reasoned, why not in the Sciences? I parlayed these lessons into my first NSF/CCLI grant (see my first blog on How I Got Here Part I–Enlightenment), Teaching Environmental Geology as a Liberal Art and I haven't looked back (see also AAAS, 1990, The Liberal Art of Science[3]).

I then had the opportunity to team teach a course with a colleague from the Photography Department. My colleague and I designed a course called "A View of Earth", in which we teamed equal numbers of students from Earth Sciences and Photography to document the landscape and human impacts in the Upper Missouri River Basin. We took daily field trips to agricultural, mining, timber, watershed, and recreational sites for two weeks. Photography students learned something about how the Earth works, and Earth Science students learned something about technical aspects of photography, the principles of photo composition, and documentary and metaphorical representations. The students then presented a gallery exhibit showing the portfolio of their work in the Student Union Building. For more thoughts on Photography in the Geosciences, see my earlier blog on Through a Lens Darkly, And Then Face to Face, the Cutting Edge module on Geophotography, and visit the amazing web photo galleries of workshop leaders Ellen Bishop, Marli Miller, and Steve Weaver.

In my Mineralogy course, I use Peter Buseck's exercise on From 2D to 3D: Escher Drawings – Crystallography, Crystal Chemistry, and Crystal Defects to demonstrate symmetry and 2-dimensional lattices. At one point I was going to have students create their own tessellations and display these in an in-class art show for extra credit (but I have yet to do this). I also send my students on a "symmetry scavenger hunt" looking for 2-D lattice types and symmetry elements in tile and brick patterns across campus. (They tell me I've "ruined their lives" as once they started to see symmetry, they now see it everywhere. See also Kim Kasten's recent blog on "threshold concepts" in her essay Further Exploration of the Boundary Between Truth and Untruth). Figure 2 shows symmetry elements in Roman tile patterns from the The Oplontis Project; blue squares represent 4-fold axes, pink diads are 2-fold axes and solid lines are mirror planes.

I have also worked with our Film and Television Department to develop a series of video clips on: Teaching Symmetry Using Kinesthetic Learning–An Exercise Using "Old Time" Dances" . The same basic symmetry elements used in these dance forms are exactly the same as those observed in crystal structures. Dancers represent atoms in specific crystallographic sites, and the dance forms represent the basic symmetry operations. The art is both in the content captured in the videos, and in the actual making of the videos. Participation in the dances is a kinesthetic learning experience that has strong affective impacts, as do many other art forms, that contributes to life-long learning. This is a class activity that few forget! Check out the online videos.

I have recently been working with faculty from our Art School on the "Wild Clay" project. We have received samples of native clays and other materials from Native American quarry sites and other deposits from around the world used in ceramics and glazes, and my students have done XRD, SEM/EDS imaging and analysis, and particle size analysis to characterize the clay mineralogy of the raw materials, and the changes to mineralogy and texture (i.e., pyro-metamorphism) of the resulting ceramic products.

Broken columns at Oplontis
Broken columns at Oplontis as a result of the 79AD Mt. Vesiuvius eruption[creative commons]
Provenance: Dave Mogk, Montana State University-Bozeman
Reuse: This item is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ You may reuse this item for non-commercial purposes as long as you provide attribution and offer any derivative works under a similar license.
I am currently working with a group of scholars (including art historians, artists architects, philosophers, and colleagues from other STEM disciplines) from Montana State University on The Oplontis Project—this was a villa in the Bay of Naples that was wiped out along with Pompeii during the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. My students are working with Arts and Architecture students to design and develop the geologic displays for a traveling exhibit that will be displayed at our Museum of the Rockies in June 2016. Most notably, the students have produced a physical model of the Bay of Naples using 3-D printing, and they have created a series of overlays of images of physiography, historical culture, regional geology, the sequence of volcanic events, and modern day habitation in the shadow of this potentially murderous volcano. In the fall, the faculty will be teaching a collection of 12 interdisciplinary courses representing the breadth of disciplines from our Oplontis study group, all of which will use the exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies as a focal point for our instruction. As an outgrowth of this project, I will also be working with our art historian to do some sophisticated analysis of the pigments from frescoes obtained at Oplontis using a variety of sophisticated microbeam methods (SEM, EDS, XPS, AES, ToF-SIMS).

The common thread in all these activities is that the collaborations started with a simple phone call, a cup of coffee, conversation and an interest in sharing a scholarly journey. It just takes a little effort to reach out and find and make a new collegial friend across campus or in the larger academic world. My life, and the experiences of my students, have been greatly enriched by these collaborations. But what are the more global benefits of integrating the Sciences/Engineering with Arts/Humanities?

From a technical point of view, the integration of Art and Science has a well-established scholarly tradition. The February 2016 issue of Elements Magazine is on Earth Sciences for Cultural Heritage. The article by Caro et al., The Earth Sciences From the Perspective of an Art Museum [4] describes the many ways that Earth scientists can work with conservators and curators in conservation, restoration, characterization and establishing the provenance of great works of art. The Earth sciences are well situated to use the fundamental methods of mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry to provide new insights into the materials and processes of Nature that have been transformed into the artifacts of our cultural heritage. And of course, artists of many types (e.g., painters, sculptors, ceramicists, metal smiths) have been adept at creatively integrating all manner of Earth materials, from clay to gems and gold, into their art works.

But there are also sound pedagogical reasons for integrating Art (and Humanities) and Science. There is a growing movement to put the "A" for Art into STEM (e.g., STEM to STEAM). Creativity, application of design principles, innovation, connections via systems thinking, representation of ideas, and communication in numerous media are all central to human advancement. A specific example of the powerful impact of integration of Art and STEM can be found in the work of Robinson and Baxter (2013) who presented a paper at the 120th Annual conference and Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) on Turning STEM Into STEAM. They argue that "...there is strong motivation for such interdisciplinary study, justified by the increasing awareness of the powerful role that images play as a fundamental format for scientific communication, of how images contribute to the development, communication and popularization of science and engineering, and of how images help build scientific literacy". They emphasize the need to develop a wide range of visualization skills that are common to engineers (and scientists) and artists: the ability to make good and careful observations, attention to topics such as form (shape), structure (e.g., relationships of shapes), scale, patterns, position in 3D space, process and time, compare and contrast, and recognition and refinement of visual cues. Robinson and Baxter state "...there are fundamental parallels between the style and creative thought processes of Engineers (Scientists) and Visual Artists and that these similarities strongly suggest that teaching the foundational concepts of Art, with disciplinary rigor and engineering (science) context, would help improve critical and creative thinking, guide and encourage innovative engineering and visual art; fostering more effective direct and conceptual communication of scientific ideas and advancements". There clearly are cognitive gains to be earned by students through integration of Art/Humanities and Science/Engineering in our instructional practice.

These arguments are congruent with the work on spatial reasoning being done by the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) (e.g., development of spatial rotation skills), and research on learning in the geosciences on Teaching with Visualizations. Mogk and Goodwin (2012)[5] make the case that Earth scientists working in the field rely heavily on creation of representations of Nature (e.g., inscriptions) to enhance meaning and utility: "Field sites are where Nature is initially transferred to culture; i.e. where we begin to make representations based on communally tested and understood practices (e.g. maps, graphs, visualizations) that explain, confirm, and rationalize Earth as we understand it." It is the making of the first inscription that creates the highest cognitive load as the Earth scientist must make critical decisions about what is important, what to emphasize (or neglect) in creating a representation, and how to best make the representation to impart the desired meaning. These are the same basic choices an artist makes when deciding what (and how) to represent on canvas or other constructed physical models.

There has been some opposition to this movement to integrate Art into STEM, with concern that this will distract from the core concepts and skills assigned to Science and Engineering and the needs of the STEM workforce. (We won't even dignify the specious statements made by Marco Rubio about the workforce demand of welders v. philosophers). The New York Times (Feb 21, 2016) ran a headline A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding, a discussion that was picked up in the March 1, 2016 edition of Physics Today in an article New York Times calls attention to the increasing privileging of STEM in academe. I view this as a reactionary response resulting in balkanization and isolation of the STEM disciplines without consideration of the larger context of impacts on the professional development of students and the greater needs of society. In the same Physics Today article, New Yorker author David Denby "...reacted to the Times article by declaring that "this STEM panic may be nonsense. Business leaders have repeatedly said they want to hire people who can think and judge, follow complicated instructions, understand fellow-workers, stand up and talk in a meeting." We have heard the same refrain in the recommendations from the Geoscience Employers Workshop (May 2015) that was convened as part of the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education project. Students need to develop strong communication skills (written, oral, graphical), the ability to work in diverse groups, creativity and design capabilities, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, cultural literacy, and an understanding of global perspectives and societal relevance of their work..

This is not an either/or situation. The fallacy here is in assuming that the addition of some component of Arts/Humanities to the STEM curriculum will somehow diminish mastery and competitiveness in the STEM disciplines, rather than enhance and enrich. Anna Feldman argues, in her essay Steam Rising Why We Need to Put the Arts into STEM Education (e-published in SLATE, June 16, 2015): "The STEAM movement isn't about spending 20 percent less time on science, technology, engineering, and math to make room for art. It's about sparking students' imagination and helping students innovate through hands-on STEM projects. And perhaps most importantly, it's about applying creative thinking and design skills to these STEM projects so that students can imagine a variety of ways to use STEM skills into adulthood". STEM education is impoverished without contributions from the Arts/Humanities.

There are emerging initiatives by professional societies to explicitly explore the intersections of Art and Earth Science. Theme sessions at the 2015 European Geophysical Union Meeting were convened on The Use of Art in Earth Education for a Better Planet Sustainability, and at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting on Integration of Art into Earth Science Education. Susan Eriksson, Kathy Ellins, and Erin Kraal host a blog called Bella Roca that is dedicated to building a community of art and geoscience, and they have also developed a website on Earth and Art as part of the Creative Disturbance project,"...an international, multilingual network and podcast platform supporting collaboration among the arts, sciences, and new technologies communities".

I particularly would like to note that Dr. Alex Navrotsky commissioned a musical work for flute entitled Orchestrations 2: Under Pressure, composed by Timothy Vincent Clark and performed by flautist Betsy Feldman, in association with her 1993 Presidential Address to the Mineralogical Society of America. The title of her address was Repeating Patterns in Mineral Energetics [6], which included numerous phase diagrams to demonstrate patterns in the natural world. From her address: "The musical work is constructed around three interlocking symmetrical structures... We first thought of music designed around pure, almost mathematical or crystalline forms. Bach and Varese quickly came to mind. But then MSA is doing new, now research-why shouldn't it get new, now music as well? We decided it's important, and fun, for MSA to be exposed to the ideas and thinking of other disciplines, and to learn-and in this case, hear-what musicians can do with ideas drawn from mineralogical research." Similarly, on the occasion of their 125th Anniversary, the Geological Society of America commissioned Symphony No 1: Formations by composer Jeffrey Nytch and performed by the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, with evocative movements that represent Orogenies–the upheaval and birth of western North America, Rush—the rapid exploration for geologic resources in the America West, Requiems—reflecting back to the formation of fossil fuels in ancient oceans and coastal swamps, and Majesties—the formation of the modern Rocky Mountains. (I was really privileged to see both premier, live performances!).

But beyond the technical and pedagogical reasons to integrate Art and Science, I think there is a higher, metaphysical need. At the 2008 GSA meeting, I was invited to give a presentation on Human Connections With Earth From the Practical to the Sublime (I can't post the Powerpoint presentation due to copyright restrictions). I provided examples of how human connections to Earth have been engrained in our social fabric following a long tradition of appreciation of the sublime in Nature. This is reflected by the literary contributions of the English Romantic poets (Wordsworth), American Transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman) and the late 19th Century writings of the emerging preservationist movement (John Muir) and more recently the poets and essayists of the environmental movement (Wallace Stegener, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder); the work of visual artists such as Thomas Moran, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, or Ansel Adams; and in the musical compositions that represent nature (Johann Strauss' Blue Danube is the obvious example here, but Die Moldau by the Bohemian composer Bedrich Smetana is my favorite). The combined work of these artists and humanists help us explore the big questions of what it means to be human, what is our place in the universe? Our colleagues in the Arts and Humanities give us the mirrors or prisms to see ourselves in new perspectives, and perhaps in contexts not previously known to ourselves. The scientific enterprise seeks to reveal the Natural processes, materials, and history that dictate the circumstances of our existence, and engineers apply this knowledge to design and develop systems to make our lives better. The Arts and Humanities provide the philosophical framework for humanity to observe, interpret, and reflect upon our role in the universe. It is at the intersection of the Sciences/Engineering and Arts/Humanities that we can fully realize what it means to be human, what constitutes a meaningful life, and how we can best navigate this wild ride on Spaceship Earth. In my recent work on Geoethics I note that we have traditionally trained geoscientists to understand the Earth system towards the inevitability that we will address: "Yes, we can exploit and/or control Earth." Perhaps it is now time to train geoscientists to also have the wisdom to ask, "But should we?" I think our friends in Arts/Humanities might have something to say about that.

Acknowledgements: I'd like to thank the many colleagues who have accompanied me on this journey of exploration: Saul Benjamin and the Texts and Critics class; Charlotte Trollinger and the View on Earth Class; Dennis Aig and the graduate class in Film and TV production for producing the Symmetry Dance videos; Dean Adams and Josh DeWeese for including me in the Wild Clays project; Regina Gee for including me on the Oplontis Project.

Post Script: The March 4, 2016 New York Times published an article in their Arts section on At M.I.T., Science Embraces a New Chaos Theory: Art. They feature a work of art that is an etching of a castle on a grain of sand using a Focused Ion Beam (FIB). The collaboration between Vik Muniz and Marcello Coelho produced The World's Smallest Sandcastles Built on Individual Grains of Sand. Check it out!


[1] Snow, C.P., 1959, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. London: Cambridge University Press

[2] Brockman, J., The Third Culture Beyond the Scientific Revolution, http://edge.org/documents/ThirdCulture/d-Contents.html

[3] AAAS ,1990, The Liberal Art of Science: Agenda for Action http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/the_liberal_art_of_science.pdf

[4] Caro, F., Basso, E., and Leona, M., 2016, The Earth Sciences From the Perspective of an Art Museum, Elements Magazine, vol. 12 #1, p. 33-38.

[5] Mogk, D., and Goodwin, C., 2012, Learning in the Field: Synthesis of research on thinking and learning in the geosciences. In K. Kastens and C. Manduca (eds), Earth and Mind II A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences, Geol. Soc. Amer. Special Paper 486, pp. 131-161.

[6] Navrotsky, A., 1994, Repeating Patterns in Mineral Energetics, (1993 Presidential Address to the Mineralogical Society of America), American Mineralogist, v. 79 p. 589-605.

Data Visualization as Rorschach Test

Posted: Feb 21 2016 by Kim Kastens

In a recent post, I discussed the work of Graham Turner, who has tested model outcomes from the Limits to Growth effort against empirical data. Turner's comparison shows that the business-as-usual (aka "standard run") model from Limits to Growth seems to be tracking pretty well against the data on measures related to economy, environment, and population. Although model and data have been agreeing pretty well so far, the hard part of the forecast hasn't yet been tested. Between approximately 2010 and 2040, the model predicts that Industrial_output_per_capita, Services_per_capita, and Food_per_capita will stop rising and start falling, followed by similar reversals in Population and Pollution. Meanwhile, Death_rate has been falling and is forecast to turn around and start rising.

One of these inflection points seems to be beginning to show up in the data: Turner's graph shows that global Death_rate has flattened out and begun to rise ever so slightly. Why might this be? More

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Further exploration of the boundary between truth and untruth

Posted: Feb 10 2016 by Kim Kastens

I recently heard a story told to children which has raised in my mind a question about how to draw the line between truth and non-truth. Since science is a quest after truth, to encounter blurriness in this line is confusing to me as a science educator.

In the story, Christopher Columbus has gone to his funding agency, the King and Queen of Spain, to ask for funding for a second expedition to the new world. He is using an egg as a visual aid, as a physical model of the globe, to demonstrate his strategy of sailing west rather than east to reach the Indies. One of the attendant nobles calls into question Columbus' accomplishment, saying that it is obvious that one could go around the globe to the west to reach a destination to the east, that anyone could have thought of this.

Columbus says, well maybe so, or maybe not. He then takes the egg, and asks if any of the assembled company can balance the egg on its end without any kind of help or aid, as he can. Various nobles try to balance the egg on its end, and without exception the egg falls onto its side as soon as the supporting fingers are taken away. More

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Be Prepared

Posted: Jan 18 2016 by David Mogk

I just finished a three-year term as Department Head. I had high hopes and expectations that I could work for departmental development: curriculum revisions, young faculty professional development, alumni relations, expanded field and research opportunities for students, increased gifting to the department.....But nothing in my academic training prepared me for other realities. Interpersonal conflicts rudely intruded on a daily basis that required constant attention and interaction with the Human Resources and Affirmative Action offices. These fully consumed my tenure as Head: Bullying. Sexual assault. Incidents that involved alcohol abuse. Behaviors that violated the faculty code of conduct. Financial impropriety in management of budgets. A security breach of departmental records. Psychological breakdowns (anxiety, stress, depression, tears). Campus security called to defuse potentially violent encounters. The death of a student, a very promising, vibrant young woman, in a back-country skiing avalanche accident. The death of another student, a veteran who served in Iraq who was making great progress and was scheduled to graduate in his final semester, in a car accident. An attempted suicide. A different case of a consummated suicide. My days were dominated by notifications of incidents to authorities, documentation of circumstances, meetings (interminable meetings) with representatives of Human Resources, Affirmative Action, Office of Sponsored Programs, Business Office, Intellectual Property, Information Technology, multiple Deans, Student Services, and University Legal Counsel. I had responsibility to deal with these issues to try to keep the department functioning, but I was not prepared to have the the tools, knowledge or authority to effect the systemic changes need to adequately address and hopefully prevent future instances.

As academics, we are trained to create and communicate knowledge. But few of us have any formal training in allied skills required to successfully manage a department or program. Many of these skills are centered on interpersonal relations related to organizational behaviors, conflict management and resolution, consensus building, assigning appropriate rewards and consequences, emergency response, and probably a thousand other skills I don't even have a name for—but our colleagues in Psychology and Business Administration do indeed have expertise in these areas. And we would do well to learn the hard-earned lessons from these disciplines about how to manage human behaviors. Here's my point: know where to look for help on your campus to be prepared to handle these situations. When these incidents arise, they demand immediate and appropriate actions to insure the health and safety of those involved, and also, to follow the established protocols (if they exist) in anticipation of future actions that may be needed. You are not in this alone. Know where on campus (or in the community) to find the help you need so that you can help those around you.

In another part of my life I'm a soccer referee. I know the Laws of the Game inside and out. But that's not enough. I go to weekly referee clinics, watch FIFA game clips to learn how the pros make the call, and have regular on the field assessments of my performance by senior referees because during dynamic play, in the heat of the moment, when you blow your whistle you have to be very clear about the offense and what the outcome will be. In the chaos of an interpersonal crisis situation, you have to be prepared to be decisive, know the rules, and act in a manner that will do no harm in the moment or for future actions.

So, be proactive. Have an incident plan and a chain of communication in place. Establish a relationship with the cognizant officers on campus such as Human Resources, Affirmative Action, Dean of Students, Counseling and Psychological Services and possibly Deans and the Provost. Invite them to a department meeting to learn about their services and procedures. Once I figured out who to contact, crisis counselors and other institutional officers were very effective in their interactions with those impacted by events during investigations and other follow-on proceedings, working with care, sensitivity, and to protect the privacy of individuals involved. (You don't want those impacted to be victimized a second time by investigative processes. Sometimes the victims need a mechanism and encouragement to find their voice about a situation; in other cases, the situation was too traumatic to have to relive. But that's for the experts to assess). Know the warning signs for students in distress and be ready to respond to suicide prevention. Know when it's your responsibility to respond to situations, how and to whom to file incident reports, and how and when to protect personal (student and faculty) privacy. As instructors, we often have students confide personal issues that affect their performance in class. I don't think that we are expected to be social workers, but a certain amount of empathy and knowledge of where to direct students to get help may make a huge difference. Everyone is aware of active shooter incidents that have occurred now on many campuses. Have the Campus Security number on speed dial on your phone. Encourage faculty and students going into the field to have basic First Aid, or better yet, Wilderness First Responder training. (In my career, I've had to be first responder to a heart attack at the toe of the Nisqually Glacier at Mt. Rainier National Park, a student passed out and hit her head on a lab table, epileptic seizures, a fiery car crash, cases of hypothermia, and numerous sprained ankles and knees at field camp).

An ounce of prevention is always the best policy. Try to anticipate and be aware of emerging situations and try to defuse them in the first instance. But, stuff happens. And when it does, the outcomes will be much better if you are prepared to take immediate and appropriate actions.

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