Robert Butler

Department of Physics, University of Portland

Robert Butler

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?

What are topics or methods that workshop participants have found effective for engaging nonscience majors in introductory Earth Science courses? How have workshop participants overcome "fear of science" or the "science is irrelevant" attitudes than many nonscience majors bring to introductory Earth Science classes?

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 taught Geoscience classes from graduate level through introductory courses for nonscience majors at a large state university and now teach exclusively introductory Geoscience courses for nonscience majors. Through this experience, I have gained an appreciation for the vital importance of the affective domain as an "on-off switch" that can permit or prevent student learning of Earth Science. I have also worked in K-12 teacher professional development that presents its own set of teaching opportunities and challenges with attendant considerations of the affective domain.

Essay: Understanding the Power of Place in Geoscience Education

In my teaching of introductory Geoscience courses and projects in Earth Science teacher professional development, I have been fortunate to work with three masters of Geoscience Education who helped me understand the "power of place". While at the University of Arizona, I worked extensively with Peter Kresan, who is both an extraordinary Geoscience educator and a professional photographer. Peter showed me the power of landscape photography in stimulating students' interest in Geoscience and the importance of place in explaining the relevance of Geoscience to students' lives. With his guidance and in collaboration with desert ecologist Tony Burgess, I developed a field-based course called "A Sense of Place" that provided an introduction to the natural history of Tucson and surrounding mountain ranges for nonscience majors at the University of Arizona and K-12 teachers of Earth Science (Butler et al. 2000). In the process of building a field-based teacher professional development program in the Pacific Northwest, I have collaborated with Ellen Morris Bishop, a geologist and award-winning photographer and writer who teaches Earth Science through inquiry, art, and observation (Bishop 2003, 2004). Charles R. (Kip) Ault, Jr. is an expert on Science Education with publications on children's perception of geological time and the role of scale in geological problem solving (Ault 1982, 1998; Orion and Ault 2006). Kip provided me a general way to understand the importance of the affective domain through his guiding principle that successful science learning opportunities must be "inviting, accessible, and useful" to the learner. I have come to understand that anchoring students' learning to local and regional landscapes greatly enhances their learning of and appreciation for Geoscience. Connection to place is emotional and can be engaged to make Geoscience both inviting and useful for students.

Every semester I teach an Earth System Science course that is required for students in the School of Education at the University of Portland. Most of these students are female, often describe themselves as "not good at science", and are generally apprehensive about taking science courses. I have invested large amounts of time "Oregonizing" Earth System Science by developing examples of how fundamental Earth Systems concepts (e.g. atmospheric circulation patterns) can explain familiar aspects of the Pacific Northwest landscape (e.g. high rainfall west of the Cascades and dry regions east of the mountains). This place-based approach helps make Earth Systems concepts accessible to learners who are familiar with local and regional landscapes but have not previously sought to understand those landscapes as the result of Earth processes.

Over the past three years, I developed a course in Natural Hazards of the Pacific Northwest that is popular with nonscience majors. In some sense, this is an easy sell because our active continental margin setting presents many geologic hazards. However, I have found that students' connection to place can be both an invitation to study natural hazards (How do we know that a great earthquake occurred on the Cascadia subduction zone in January of 1700?) and an impediment to learning about specific natural hazards (What do you mean my home town is built on an ancient lahar from Mt Rainier?). Understanding the affective domain is important both to engage interest in student learning about natural hazards and to avoid triggering negative emotional reactions that can block such learning. My appreciation for the importance of the affective domain has been increased by two recent publications by Zull (2002) and Bain (2004) in which the importance of the affective domain is often addressed and analyzed.


Ault, C.R., Jr., 1982. Time in geological explanations as perceived by elementary school students. Journal of Geological Education, v. 30, 304-309.

Ault, C.R., Jr., 1998. Criteria of excellence for geological inquiry: The necessity of ambiguity. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, v. 35, 189-212.

Bain, K., 2004. What the Best College Teachers Do, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 207.

Bishop, E.M., 2003. In Search of Ancient Oregon, Timber Press, Portland, OR, pp. 288.

Bishop, E.M., 2004. Hiking Oregon's Geology, 2nd Ed, The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA, pp. 270.

Butler, R.F., M. Hall-Wallace, and T. Burgess, 2000. A Sense of Place: At Home with Local Natural History, Journal of College Science Teaching, v. 30, 252-255.

Orion, N., and C.R. Ault, Jr., 2006. Learning earth sciences. In: The Handbook of Research on Science Teaching edited by N. Lederman and S. Abell, Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ.

Zull, J. E., 2002. The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA, pp. 263.

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