Development of Spatial Thinking in Field and Structural Geology Courses

Tuesday 2:00pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Geoscience Education Research II


Kim Hannula, Fort Lewis College
Spatial thinking skills are a fundamental part of the competencies expected from Geoscience majors, and field experiences are thought to play a critical role in developing spatial thinking skills. This study examines the development of penetrative thinking and perceptions of horizontality in two courses: a sophomore-level field course, and a junior-level structural geology course.

Two sections of a sophomore field course (33 students) and one section of structural geology (27 students) were given the Geologic Block Cross-sectioning Test (GBCT; Ormand et al., 2014) and the water-level task (Piaget and Inhelder, 1956) as pre- and post-tests during Fall 2014. The sophomore course was the first time that the students engaged in geologic mapping, and is a pre-requisite for structural geology. Results of the GBCT showed improvement in both courses. The sophomore field class improved from a pre-test mean of 34% to a post-test mean of 45%; mean improvement was 2.87 out of 16 points. Structural geology students also improved, from a pre-test mean of 47% to a post-test mean of 63%; mean improvement was 2.38 out of 16 points. In both classes, the pre-test results on the water-level task showed that most of the students were very high performers (deviations of less than 5 degrees from horizontal), with little room for improvement.

Improvement in the GBCT was nearly equal in the field course and in structural geology. Furthermore, the post-test scores for the sophomore course were statistically similar to the pre-test scores for structural geology (p=0.73). This suggests that the students' penetrative thinking skills improved in steps through the sequence of courses. Engaging students in spatially intense field work early in their geoscience major prepares them to continue improving their spatial thinking through the rest of the major, and prepares them for the spatial thinking demanded of professional geoscientists.

Presentation Media

Powerpoint: Development of Spatial Thinking in Field and Structural Geology Courses (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.9MB Jul13 15)