Older but Wiser

Posted: Jan 2 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Interpretation/Inference

photo of Marie TharpMarie Tharp's workspace with seafloor profiles aligned to facilitate comparing and contrasting multiple "cases." Source.
In a recent post, I wrote about "Case Based Reasoning," a powerful form of learning in which a person compares and contrasts multiple instances of something and extracts a common pattern or thread of insight. Without using that term, Ault (1998) described a very similar process for how geologists extract insight from nature, using the example of deep sea fans. Each fan is a little different from the others, and the essence of deep-sea-fan-ness lies in the aspects they have in common.

This reasoning process is found throughout geosciences. For example, Marie Tharp's discovery of the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge came about as she slogged through thousands of kilometers of echo sounder profiles and extracted the common schema of a rift-shaped feature reminiscent of the East African Rift Valley. More

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Rocks as Models

Posted: Dec 17 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Interpretation/Inference

I was leading an Earth Science teacher professional development workshop recently, and the subject turned to models: physical models, computer models, data models, mathematical models, graphical models, etc. Afterwards, one of the teachers said to me "Well, it seems like EVERYTHING we use in teaching Earth Science is a model."

And I said, "Well, it's not THAT extreme. Rocks aren't models....." More

Bad Diagrams

Posted: Dec 14 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking

All in all, I'm a fan of the New York State Earth Science Regents course and of the accompanying Earth Science Regents exam. New York state enrolls more students in high school level Earth Science than any other state, and confronting the common exam has helped to build a community of practice among New York State Earth Science teachers that is the envy of Earth Science teachers in other states. I especially like the emphasis on building and assessing representational competence–the ability to understand and make inferences from diagrams, maps, profiles, block diagrams, graphs and other visual representations.

However, I have to say that the most recent Earth Science Regents exam (August 20ll) had two really terrible diagrams, so bad that I think they are more likely to sow confusion than illuminate earth processes. More

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Questions we don't think to ask

Posted: Dec 1 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Metacognition, Perception/Observation

The most interesting thing I learned over Thanksgiving arrived during a pre-dinner walk along a rural Massachusetts road heavily impacted by the Halloween storm. Many tree limbs were shattered, fallen to the ground or dangling from their parent trees. My cousin's daughter's friend Mike pointed out that the broken limbs still had their leaves, browned and stiff but still connected, while the healthy trees had lost all their leaves. The rest of us looked more carefully, and sure enough, his observation was correct, tree after tree. More

Faculty Professional Development by means of Case Based Reasoning

Posted: Nov 22 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Metacognition, Collaboration, Community

photo from SERC Workshop
Small group discussion at SERC Complex Earth sysetms workshop
I've now been to five workshops in the "On the Cutting Edge" series of professional development workshops for college geoscience faculty (this one, and this, and this, and this, and this). I've been amazed and somewhat bemused at how well they work. People show up, they contribute genuinely good teaching ideas, they ask seriously probing questions of the expert speakers, new ideas get generated through small group discussion, and then people go home and actually make use of ideas from the workshop in their teaching practice. I'm not the only person who really likes these workshops: as of about a year and half ago, 1400 geoscience faculty from more than 450 geoscience departments had participated in Cutting Edge workshops (Manduca, et al, 2010).

In contrast, many of my colleagues concerned with the quality of science education in other disciplines moan and groan about how hard it is to get college faculty to pay attention to research on learning or to change their teaching practice. So how–by what mechanism–does the Cutting Edge approach work? Here's an idea. More