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Temporal Reasoning

The concept of deep time is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the geosciences. We expect geoscientists to have an intuitive sense for the scale of geologic time, the rates of geologic processes, and the uncertainties associated with ages and rates, while also having a general understanding of Earth's history. For geoscience students, learning these skills and content is no easy undertaking, and it requires repeated practice. But an appreciation for geologic time is important for all citizens, not just geoscientists. The perspective provided through the long history of the planet is critical to developing ways to live sustainably on Earth in the future. Helping all students develop their temporal reasoning skills and understanding of deep time is an important component of facilitating geoscience literacy.

This concept map, from (Manduca and Kastens, 2012) , illustrates the domain of time in the geosciences. Of primary interest here are the nodes of temporal reasoning, which discusses the habits of mind utilized by geoscientists about time, and pedagogy, which describes strategies for and impediments to teaching. You can download text to accompany the concept map (Acrobat (PDF) 106kB Feb19 13).

Common challenges and misconceptions

Learning outcomes and assessment for temporal reasoning

Knowing the challenges that students face in developing an understanding of geologic time, you can develop specific learning outcomes tied to assessments that will help you move them towards experts in temporal reasoning. Learning outcomes for temporal reasoning differ somewhat from learning goals about the content of geologic time. For example, you may want students to be able to name the major eons of the geologic time scale and their characteristics, but that is not temporal reasoning or a habit of mind. Learning outcomes that addresses this habit of mind might be something like:

Resources for teaching about time and temporal reasoning

Connections to big ideas, essential principles, and fundamental concepts about temporal reasoning in the geoscience literacies

  • Earth Science Big Idea 2. Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
    • Fundamental concept 2.1. Earth's rocks and other materials provide a record of its history.
    • Fundamental concept 2.7. Over Earth's vast history, both gradual and catastrophic processes have produced enormous changes.
  • Earth Science Big Idea 3. Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
    • Fundamental concept 3.4. Earth's systems interact over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. These scales... operate over fractions of a second to billions of years.
  • Climate Literacy Essential Principle 4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
    • Fundamental concept A. Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation averages and extremes at a location. Climate descriptions can refer to areas that are local, regional, or global in extent. ...
  • Atmospheric Science Essential Principle 4. Earth's atmosphere changes over time and space, giving rise to weather and climate.
    • Fundamental concept 4.3. Both weather and climate vary by region based on latitude, altitude, land use, proximity to physical features such as the ocean and mountains, and ocean currents.

Selected references for temporal reasoning


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