Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Jennifer Stempien

Jennifer Stempien

Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder

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?

My interests are exploring how to consider student attitudes in introductory geology classes that have a wide range of majors, both science and non-science. Specifically I am interested in designing material (in-lecture activities, assignments, presentation of material and learning goals) for use in large classroom that will be of interest to the highest number of students.

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?

As a current education researcher, I will be able to bring the result of interviews and pre and post-semester surveys regarding student attitudes from four fall introductory geology classes, as well as pre-semester attitude surveys for spring introductory classes. The results include the possible change in attitude about science after completing a fall class and if there is a correlation with course content and teaching techniques. The purpose of this data is to determine the best practices to increase student interest and attitude throughout the semester, focusing on large introductory classes, so that classes may be redesigned to be both enjoyable and educational.

Essay: The Consequence of Relevance on Student Attitudes

A student's attitude and perception of science is often opposite of those held by expert and can have a significant affect on student performance in the classroom (Songer & Linn, 1991). While investigating student attitudes regarding introductory physical geology classes at a large state university, preliminary interviews of 13 students from a variety of science and non-science majors revealed that level of interest correlates with the overall performance in the class. When asked what determines level of interest and attitude toward a class the most common responses can be classified as (1) relevance to their future (e.g. career, major, where they want to live) and (2) relevance to their current or past experiences. Pre-semester student questionnaires suggest a strong initial interest in geology based on students past experiences such as visiting national parks, where they live or go to school, visiting natural history museums and positive earth sciences classes in K-12.

This information seems encouraging as many geoscientists say confidently that it is easy to show the relevance of geology to people's everyday lives, for example oil prices, environmental concerns, and natural resources. Unfortunately there appears to be a breakdown in communicating the relevance of geological and earth systems science to everyday life to "non-geologists" in introductory classes. When introductory students were asked halfway through the semester if the material presented in class was relevant to their lives, nine out of 13 students responded negatively. Students perceived that most of the material in an introductory geology class was not relevant because the material was (a) to detail-oriented and (b) had to be memorized. In addition, student interest in geology decreased over the course of the semester due to the perception that memorization, not critical thinking, is necessary in order to succeed in geology. Students are missing geology's big picture, the relevance of geology to their own lives, and as a result appear to develop a negative attitude towards geology. While these are preliminary results, it is a cause for concern that students attitudes appear to change from positive to negative as negative attitudes will hinder student learning in the classroom as well as use of that material outside of the classroom (Gal & Ginsburg 1994).

The apparent results of negative attitudes in learning are antagonistic to an instructors' goal to have the student develop an appreciation of the subject at hand and it would be in the best interest to consider students' attitudes and interest levels when developing course material. Education research have suggested numerous ways how to promote positive student attitudes in science and mathematics classrooms such as presenting motivational topics in the beginning of course (Moore, 1997), the use of hand-on inquiry (Ornstein, 2006) , and the use of learning goals to focus on conceptual learning (Perkins et al., 2004). While these approaches may work in other science and math classrooms, the unique composition of an introductory class, in which approximately 50% of student being non-science majors and often less than 20% geology majors, may mean that new approaches need to be considered. Classroom observations and student interviews regarding introductory geology classes suggest the potential of approaches such as (1) if questions, both in-lecture and assignments, are phrased to the student's vocabulary, (2) use of local geography or areas familiar to student as geological examples, and (3) use of current events in lecture. However the effectiveness of such approaches to promote positive student attitudes and geological concepts has still yet to be determined in large introductory geology classes.


Gal, I., and Ginsburg, L. (1994). The Role of Beliefs and Attitudes in Learning Statistics: Toward an Assessment Framework. Journal of Statistics Education, 2(2).

Moore, D. S. (1997). New pedagogy and new content: the case of statistics. International Statistical Review, 65, 123-165.

Ornstein, A. (2006). The Frequency of Hands-On Experimentation and Student Attitudes Toward Science: A Statistically Significant Relation. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15(3), 285-297.

Perkins, K.K., Adams, W.K., Pollock, S.J., Finkelstein, N.D., and Wieman, C.E. (2004) Correlating Student Beliefs With Student Learning Using the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey. PERC Proceedings.

Songer, N.P. and Linn, M.C. (1991). How Do Students' Views of Science Influence Knowledge Integration? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28 (9), 761-784.