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It turns out that many Earth processes of global significance, in both solid and fluid earth, have this same effect of redistributing energy away from localities of high energy concentration towards localities of lower energy concentration. The net effect is a more dispersed spatial distribution of energy. More
(adapted from essay and talk prepared for the Cutting Edge Workshop on "Developing Student Understanding of Complex Systems in the Geosciences," Carleton College, April 18-20, 2010.)
Several inherent attributes of ocean, atmosphere and solid earth sciences contribute to making these disciplines challenging to teach and learn at the K-14 level. These include the large spatial scale of important processes, the consequent reliance on models and representations rather than actual target phenomena in hands-on activities, the centrality of systems thinking and emergent phenomena, and the importance of non-experimental modes of inquiry. None of these difficulties is unique to geosciences, and none is insurmountable, but they do require purposeful attention from educators, curriculum and program designers, and evaluators. More
In the first paper coming out from the Synthesis of Research on Thinking & Learning in the Geosciences, we made the bold assertion that:
Even in the absence of new research on this topic, I am ready to stake my reputation on a simple intervention that I am convinced can greatly improve students' and the public's understanding of the concept of feedback loops. More
Students come to us from other science classes with experience in thinking about one thing at a time. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the scientific method, they have often been taught, is to isolate out and control one parameter at a time, to set up experiments in which there is one manipulated variable or perhaps two.
Then they show up in Earth Science class, and we want them to think about interactions among many processes and phenomena, all varying over time and space. To get your mind around the water cycle, for example, requires understanding a dozen or so different kinds of reservoirs, and the fluxes among them, and the processes that speed up or slow down each flux. And all of those things are going on at the same time.
In general, humans find it difficult to consider many different processes or phenomena at the same time. We do, however, have one sensory modality that is exceptionally good at processing multiple simultaneous signals. More