Integrating multiple sources of insight
To think insightfully about the Earth, geoscientists must not only master each of these four distinctive ways of learning and thinking; they must be able to apply them all, simultaneously or iteratively, to the same problem. As a classic example, consider one of the greatest insights in the history of geosciences: James Hutton's realization of the immensity of geological time (Hutton, 1778; Repcheck, 2003). To reach his epiphany, Hutton applied all four of the thinking processes we have showcased in this proposal.
Field observations presented him with both the puzzle to be solved and critical clues to its solution. Spatial thinking led him to see significance in the differing tilts of the two sets of beds, and the irregular surface between them. He had to realize that multiple processes had acted on the same region of the Earth's crust, and disambiguate the traces of these processes from each other. And, he had to comprehend the vastness of geological time to allow the slow processes of sedimentation and erosion observable today to accumulate the effects seen in the rock record.
This brings us to our final question:
- How can geoscience educators craft and sequence a set of learning goals and learning experiences that will help students use the full suite of available thinking tools in concert, to identify and constrain unanswered questions about the Earth?
Hutton, J. (1788). THEORY of the EARTH; or an INVESTIGATION of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1.
Repcheck, J. (2003). The Man who found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth's Antiquity. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.