Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods for the Geosciences

Teaching Methods for the Geosciences


These pages were originally developed for the Pedagogy in Action website. The pedagogies and activities represented in this collection are geared toward the geoscience community; for activities and courses that include other topics, visit the Pedagogy in Action website. Each pedagogic approach is described succinctly so you can quickly understand how the technique might be relevant to your teaching. Written by fellow educators, these descriptions include tips for effectively using each technique, related research on their impacts on learning, as well as a set of example activities.


  • Assessment provides educators with a better understanding of what students are learning and engages students more deeply in the process of learning content. Compiled by: William Slattery at Departments of Geological Sciences and Teacher Education, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
  • Campus-Based Learning uses the campus environment itself as a teaching tool. Compiled by: Suzanne Savanick at SERC, Carleton College.
  • ConcepTests are conceptual multiple-choice questions that focus on one key concept of an instructor's learning goals for a lesson. When coupled with student interaction through peer instruction, ConcepTests represent a rapid method of formative assessment of student understanding. Compiled by: David McConnell, North Carolina State University.
  • Cooperative Learning involves students working in groups to accomplish learning goals. Compiled by: Rebecca Teed (SERC), John McDaris (SERC), and Cary Roseth (UMN).
  • Experience-Based Environmental Projects get students involved in their own learning. Compiled by: Karin Kirk at Montana State University.
  • The First Day of Class is your opportunity to stimulate excitement about the course, establish a positive classroom climate, and engage students with course content - right from the start.
  • Gallery Walk activities get students out of their chairs to actively work together. Compiled by: Mark Francek at Central Michigan University.
  • Game-Based Learning was written to assist geoscience faculty who want to start using games to help them teach. Compiled by: Rebecca Teed at SERC, Carleton College.
  • Interactive Lectures provide short activities that can break up a lecture. Compiled by: Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary) and Rebecca Teed (SERC).
  • Investigative Case-Based Learning involves students in addressing real world problems. Compiled by: Ethel Stanley (BioQUEST, Beloit College) and Margaret Waterman (Southeast Missouri State University).
  • Jigsaws: When you have several related data sets you would like students to explore, a jigsaw may be an option. In a jigsaw, each student develops some expertise with one data set, then teaches a few classmates about it (and learns about related data sets from those classmates). Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College.
  • Just-in-Time Teaching gets students to read assigned material outside of class, respond to short questions online, and then participate in discussion and collaborative exercises in the following class period. Compiled by: Laura Guertin at Pennsylvania State University Delaware County.
  • Lecture Tutorials are short worksheets that students complete in class to make lecture more interactive. They are designed specifically to address misconceptions and other topics with which students have difficulties. Compiled by Karen Kortz, Community College of Rhode Island, and Jessica Smay, San Jose City College.
  • Making and Testing Conjectures is an effective way of engaging students in learning and helping them to develop their reasoning abilities. Compiled by: Shirley J. Alt at The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
  • Peer-Led Team Learning engages teams of six to eight students in learning sciences, mathematics and other undergraduate disciplines guided by a peer leader. Peer leaders are drawn from the pool of students who have done well in the course previously.
  • Peer Review uses interaction around writing to refine students understanding. Compiled by: Laura Guertin at Pennsylvania State University Delaware County.
  • Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) is a research based learning environment where students are actively engaged in mastering course content and in developing essential skills by working in self-managed teams on guided inquiry activities.
  • Quantitative Writing engages students with numbers by asking them to analyze and use quantitative data in written reports and arguments. Compiled by: John C. Bean at Seattle University.
  • Role-Playing immerses students in debate around Earth science issues. Compiled by: Rebecca Teed at SERC, Carleton College.
  • SCALE-UP is a Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs. Carefully designed studio classrooms facilitate student teamwork and instructor movement between groups.
  • Service Learning in the Geosciences offers the opportunity to link academic learning with community service. Compiled by: Suzanne Savanick at SERC, Carleton College.
  • Socratic Questioning turns a lecture into a guided discussion. Compiled by: Dorothy Merritts and Robert Walter at Franklin & Marshall College.
  • Spreadsheets Across The Curriculum helps students build spreadsheets and apply elementary mathematics to solve problems in context. Compiled by: Len Vacher at University of South Florida, Tampa.
  • Structured Academic Controversy is a type of cooperative learning strategy in which small teams of students learn about a controversial issue from multiple perspectives. Compiled by: Claudia Khourey-Bowers, Kent State University.
  • Student Research engages student interest and provides opportunities for them to participate in active learning. Compiled by: Linda Reinen at Pomona College.
  • Studio Teaching can provide a quintessential active and cooperative learning environment. Compiled by: Dexter Perkins at The University of North Dakota.
  • Teaching Urban Students: Urban students bring a rich set of experiences to the classroom that may be significantly different than those of students in small-town settings. Effective teaching of urban students requires instructors to tap into these rich experiences, cultural customs, and practical skills sets. Compiled by: Wayne Powell, Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
  • Teaching with Data helps faculty find and integrate real data sets into their classes. Compiled by: Robert MacKay at Clark College.
  • Teaching with GIS in the Geosciences shows how this powerful new tool can be used to help teach geoscience. Compiled by: Brian Welch at Dept. of Environmental Studies, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.
  • Teaching with Google Earth provides detailed instructions for bringing rich imagery and interactive information into the classroom. Compiled by:Glenn A. Richard, Mineral Physics Institute, Stony Brook University.
  • Teaching with Interactive Demonstrations helps faculty use effective these hands-on, inquiry-based learning opportunities in class or lab. Compiled by: Dorothy Merritts, Robert Walter (Franklin & Marshall College) and Bob MacKay (Clark College).
  • Teaching with Models helps students understand the relationships between data and Earth processes. Compiled by: Bob MacKay at Clark College.
    • Conceptual Models are qualitative models that help highlight important connections in real world systems and processes. Compiled by: Bob MacKay at Clark College.
    • Mathematical and Statistical Models involve solving relevant equation(s) of a system or characterizing a system based upon its statistical parameters. Compiled by: Bob MacKay at Clark College.
  • Teaching with Data Simulations allows students to visualize probability distributions, which in turn can make the processes associated with probability more concrete. Compiled by: Danielle Dupuis at University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
  • Teaching the Process of Science helps you integrate the process of science into your teaching at all levels, using a variety of different techniques.
  • Teaching with Visualizations helps students see how systems work. Compiled by: Bob MacKay at Clark College.
  • Using an Earth History Approach helps students' understand how human impact on the Earth's systems has increased exponentially over time. Compiled by: Rebecca Teed at SERC, Carleton College.
  • Using an Earth System Approach introduces concepts and resources centered on space, air, water, land, life, and human dimensions.
  • Using Field Labs introduces students to complex natural systems, breaks down barriers among academic fields, encourages multiple observations, and introduces students to the area near their campus. Compiled by: Mary Savina at Carleton College.
  • Using Indoor Labs provides students with opportunities for structured investigations and experiments of materials, models, and other equipment. Compiled by: Mary Savina at Carleton College.

Pedagogic Modules Under Development:

  • Authentic Writing for STEM (science, technology, engineering, & mathematics) will promote writing within the context of a profession, such as engineering or engineering technology. This type of writing requires a style that is more analytical, devoid of emotion, and with a separation of author from the written product. Compiled by Sue Ramlo, University of Akron.
  • Engaging Students with Visual Rhetoric, by Anne Wysocki, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
  • Faculty-coached, In-class Problem Solving is a class format in which professors provide a structured, guided context for students working collaboratively to solve problems. Debby Walser-Kuntz, Sarah Deel and Susan Singer, Carleton College
  • Guided Discovery Problems: Through intriguing puzzles to solve, structured hands-on activities, carefully worded leading questions, crucial hints, and just-in-time presentations of information, guided discovery problems escort students step-by-step through the discovery process, giving them a tantalizing taste of the most delicious part of science. Ann Bykerk-Kauffman, California State University, Chico.
  • Integrating Measurement Uncertainty into Science Instruction increases scientific literacy, helps students use data to understand science concepts during inquiry-based labs and activities, and prepares students for future science education. Compiled by Peter Bohacek and Greg Schmidt, Sibley Public High School
  • Inventing and Testing Models, by Joan Garfield, Robert delMas and Andrew Zieffler, of the University of Minnesota
  • Place-Based Learning is intended to promote sustainable lifestyles and economies appropriate for the ecological and cultural attributes of places and regions, rather than global standardization or narrowly-focused career training. Steven Semken, Arizona State University.
  • Problem Solving Strategies are specific methods and templates for teaching students to solve problems in mathematics, physics and chemistry. The ultimate goal of these strategies is to guide students in their progression from novice to expert problem solvers by providing them with a framework for a systematic approach to new problems. Marsha M. Hobbs, Jackson Preparatory School.
  • Teaching Large Classes will help you bring active pedagogies into large lecture halls. Mark Leckie, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • Teaching Quantitative Reasoning with the News describes how one can use media articles as the main content for a course focused on honing students' ability to critically think about and analyze quantitative information. Stuart Boersma, Central Washington University
  • Teaching with Visuality intentionally harnesses the power of the visual to provide powerful learning experiences for all students. Mary Savina, Carleton College.
  • Using Issues to Teach Science by Susan Musante and Sheri Potter, from the American Institute of Biological Sciences