Initial Publication Date: January 16, 2007

Ann Bykerk-Kauffman

Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Chico


Ann Bykerk-Kauffman

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?

How math anxiety acts as a MAJOR deterrent that, for most interested students, slams the door shut on majoring in geology. The mysterious chemistry that makes students like or dislike an instructor and therefore the class: I've had classes hate me; I've had classes love me; I don't know exactly what tips the balance one way or the other. How to win students over without "dumbing down" the material. Dealing with the incompatibility of many students' religious views and the material I'm expecting them to learn. The amazing attitude and work ethic change that I've observed in geology majors between the first core course and the last. Fostering the close-knit sense of community that often exists among geology 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?

I have developed an Earth Science course for prospective elementary school teachers that has succeeded in teaching students many basic concepts as well as improving students' attitudes toward science and their ability to learn, teach and do it. I have been teaching this course for 11 years now. I can talk about what I think did the trick, what is essential to achieve this result. I can also talk about what I have not been able to accomplish with this group and some possible reasons why.

My parents are both psychologists; and both are influenced primarily by the work of Carl Jung. Some of their fascination for psychology just had to rub off. So, starting at an early age, I have read many many psychology books, especially by depth psychologists in general and Jungians in particular. I have even gone so far as to engage in an intense and exciting Jungian analysis of myself (eight years and counting). Thus, for a geologist, I have a very strong grasp on psychology, especially of the unconscious and how it operates and influences behavior, attitudes and emotions.

I strive to pay attention to the affective domain in all aspects of my teaching. I find that my teaching is much more effective when I actually do this. I can talk about some of the things I've changed as a result of my consideration of the affective domain.


Essay: Teaching Evolution in an Introductory Geology Course

Over my 17-year teaching career, I have taught Introductory Geology for non-science majors many times. Until recently, I had always avoided the topic of evolution. But I kept feeling like I was shirking my responsibility to give students the general education they needed, especially after my father told me that he always taught evolution in his introductory Psychology classes. So, three semesters ago, I put "The Theory of Evolution" on the syllabus.

I thought I had a clever way to deal with the topic and proceeded to build the lecture that way. My gimmick was this: I admitted that "If there is an all-powerful supreme being, s/he can do whatever s/he wants and scientists can never disprove it." I said that it was perfectly possible that some supernatural being had really created the universe in one week, 6000 years ago, but that s/he created it with a huge built-in body of amazingly consistent evidence for a very specific and very ancient history. And so s/he must have, for some reason, wanted us to discover and interpret that evidence and to reconstruct that ancient history. I then talked a bit about the scientific method and stated that biological evolution is the only scientifically valid theory for the origin of species. I quoted Phillip Johnson's (1991) book that launched the "Intelligent Design" movement, "This isn't really, and never has been, a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

With this (I thought) clever and disarming preamble, I proceeded to describe Darwin's theory of natural selection, using material from the excellent "Understanding Evolution" web site at UC Berkeley. I presented a bit of evidence, stated that there are mountains more of it, and went over some common misconceptions. I delivered this lecture with some humor, illustrating it with cartoons. I thought I did a great job and so I presented the lecture much the same way the next semester.

But then I noticed that, on the course evaluations, a number of students specifically mentioned this lecture. They complained that it was "sarcastic," and in bad taste. Their perception was that I was making fun of them. Some said I shouldn't be teaching this material at all. I was stunned.

The next semester, with some trepidation, I put the topic of evolution on the syllabus again. I had no idea what I would do differently this time. But then, just a week before the lecture, I attended an excellent GSA talk by Barry Bickmore entitled Science as "storytelling" for teaching the nature of science to preservice teachers (Bickmore and others, 2006). I based the preamble to my lecture on Barry's talk and the essay he graciously provided (Bickmore and Grandy, 2006) which presented seven "rules for scientific storytelling," including the rule that "scientific explanations do not appeal to the supernatural" and why scientists follow this rule even when they themselves believe in the supernatural. After describing these rules, I again presented the material from the UC Berkeley web site. This time, students were able to take in the material. Several specifically told me how much they enjoyed the lecture. The theory of evolution finally made sense to them.


Bickmore, B.R. and Grandy, D.A., 2006, Science as Storytelling (14 pages).