Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Eric Pyle

Eric Pyle

Department of Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University

Eric Pyle

What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

The employment of motivation as a tool in the recruitment, retention, and persistence of students in the geosciences, especially in the connections between secondary education and higher education. I would also like to explore the means by which students' affect towards Earth phenomena might be used as a tool for more effective learning in a range of geoscience learning experiences.

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I have been engaged in the development and evaluation of instructional materials and practices at the secondary level, and the manipulation of motivational variables in teacher education and introductory geology classes. I have conducted research on motivation in formal and informal science learning environments. I would like to collaborate with others with similar interests, using/developing a geosciences-specific model in which motivational factors may be manipulated to best leverage the unique learning opportunities in the geosciences. I can share what I have learned through a poster or PowerPoint presentation, but would welcome the opportunity to share through novel, interactive strategies.

Essay: "Just Motivate Them" for Geoscience Inquiry

When I was a high school science teacher in the 1980s and 90s, the principal that felt that the solution to my students not making up labs and quizzes missed due sporting events was to, "Just motivate them." He had little to offer me in terms of motivational strategies beyond, "Just embarrass them." One of the first questions that I faced was what does a motivated student look like in terms that could be defined and generative of diagnostic instrumentation. A potential outcome of my inquiries would the definition of instructional strategies and organizational frameworks that could be shared with other teachers. In this manner, they could create learning environments that would promote student effort through motivation rather than more punitive approaches.

I could reasonably assume that student and parent groups that visited informal science education environments of their own volition, that is, not part of a school group or other compulsory grouping, were motivated to engage in science. Under this assumption, the venue was a free-choice learning environment, where the primary motivating factors were intrinsic to the students and their parents, rather than extrinsic from a curricular requirement. From an analysis of interview, videotape, and observational data in 3 museums and 3 science-oriented stores, several variables related to students' social cognition, motivation and action, and evaluation were isolated:

Intrinsic to the student

  • Relatedness—the extent to which students need and utilize peer learners in a given situation;
  • Autonomy—the extent to which students perceive personal agency in the selection of tasks and approaches to tasks;
  • Competence—the extent to which students believe they have mastered a task;

Intrinsic to the social context of the student

  • Connectedness—the relationship of the student to more capable peers;
  • Autonomy Support—the extent to which students perceive that their choices are supported by more capable peers;
  • Effectance—the extent to which students believe that they could change the outcome of a situation or task, should circumstances require it.

Through the articulation of these variables, a quantitative instrument that assessed students' responses to learning environments with a high degree of reliability was developed and field-tested. Given the content specificity of the students' responses, it was clear that sets of questions related to a broader set of situations was needed. What remained elusive, however, was the direct implementation of the findings on all six variables in a given classroom setting. I have been able to utilize individual aspects of the variables in various settings, from small graduate level classes to large undergraduate introductory geology classes, but a consistent, situation-specific setting has been needed to realize the more consistent application of strategies in my teaching, based at least in part on the characteristics of a given cohort of students.

My current interests lie in the synthesis of inquiry-oriented pedagogies specific to the geosciences, as informed by measurements of the motivational variables described above in large introductory geology classes, teacher professional development sessions, and secondary Earth science classrooms. An application of these motivational variables in geoscience education, through inquiry instruction, has the potential to impact recruitment, retention, persistence, and above all, learning in the geosciences at multiple levels.