CogSketch Geoscience Worksheets

Tuesday 3:00pm-3:20pm Weeks Geo: AB20
Teaching Demonstration Part of Tuesday Teaching Demos

Session Chairs

Bridget Garnier, Blue Valley School
Basil Tikoff, University of Wisconsin-Madison


We will give a brief tutorial on how CogSketch works and then show a subset of our worksheets. We will also have a few tablet PCs for participants to try the worksheets during the demonstration.


Sketching is a valuable activity to help students develop spatial skills and understand difficult geoscience concepts. Yet, sketching is rarely implemented at the introductory level due to the time needed to grade and provide constructive feedback. Our interdisciplinary team has developed a set of geoscience sketching exercises that utilize a sketch-understanding program with a built-in virtual tutor, CogSketch. The interactive capabilities in CogSketch allow students to draw, move, and rotate objects and annotate charts, diagrams, and photos. These exercises often mimic how experts mentally complete spatially complex tasks. The built-in virtual tutor compares the student's sketch to a solution sketch and displays feedback on incorrect aspects of the sketch. Students can request feedback from the tutor at any time. We have created 26 CogSketch worksheets with topics ranging from atomic to planetary scale processes and concepts. In our implementation in an introductory physical geology course at UW-Madison, CogSketch worksheets provided more opportunities to sketch than are normally assigned, engaged students (particularly through use of the virtual tutor), and saved hours of instructor grading time. Therefore, Cogsketch worksheets have the potential to increase sketching in large courses, while increasing learning potential with minimal additional time from instructors.


We implemented a subset of our worksheets in an introductory physical geology class at UW-Madison. The majority of the students were freshmen and sophomores in college. 66 students completed 9-12 worksheets over the course of the semester. Students downloaded the program onto their windows-capable computers, or used university computers on which the program had been installed. The worksheets were completed as homework assignments, and worksheets were emailed to the instructor for batch grading and evaluation.

Why It Works

Our CogSketch worksheets address geoscience concepts using cognitive science principles. The program engages students' interests by providing an interactive interface and on-demand feedback through the virtual tutor. The result is an engaging and educational activity, but one that can be implemented in large college classrooms because of the minimal demands on instructors' grading time.