Spatially Challenged Introductory Geoscience Students

Joann Hochstein, Physical Science Department, College of Central Florida

Introductory geoscience courses teach students about complex earth processes, which generally require spatial skills to combine 1-, 2- and/ or 3-dimensional structures and systems that vary in scale and over time. In geosciences, students must be able to visualize landscapes, surficial and subsurface geology, and geologic changes over time. On top of that many students come into geoscience classes with misconceptions and often memorize the information instead of learning the concepts. Students therefore do not gain the conceptual understanding necessary to succeed in science.

Some of problems stem from students in traditionally taught courses resort to memorization as their strategy to learn the material [37,38]. By moving away from a teacher-centered toward a student- centered approach, there is an increase in students' conceptual learning and attitude toward science [1-9]. Student centered and active learning methods require students to engage in their own learning process with group discussion and problem solving in class. Successful active learning strategies allow students to fit new information into existing cognitive structures, which promotes learning. However, when students perceive no apparent connection of new information to prior knowledge, the new information is memorized and discarded [1,9]. The nature of temporal concepts make it an excellent subject for student centered and active learning strategies. For these reasons, I use Lecture Tutorials in all my courses. Lecture Tutorials are 10-20 minute active worksheets that pose questions of increasing conceptual difficulty to students, cause conflict with alternative conceptions, and help the students construct correct scientific ideas [3,10-12].

The Lecture Tutorials for my course have been either written by modifying content from Kortz and Smay (2010) Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Geoscience, Physical Geology and Earth Science Lab manuals or provided along with my textbooks (How Does the Earth Work by Smith and Pun and Earth by Thompson and Turk). Since my Lecture Tutorials require application of the concepts versus regurgitation of the information, they allow for the determination of student comprehension of the presented concepts. Also students are better prepared for laboratory exercises because they already had to apply the concepts at least once during the Lecture Tutorial.


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