A Hybrid Kinesthetic-Visual-Inquiry Based Approach to Heighten College-Level Students' Understanding of Plate Tectonics: An Evidence Based Study
One of the most critical science phenomena which geoscience students are expected to comprehend is plate tectonics (PT), a physically, chemically and mathematically complex process that is too immense and too slow to visually and temporally observe in real-time. PT is fundamental to all areas of geoscience and most geoscience students struggle with understanding its core-concepts. Since PT theory, the unifying theory of geology, has significant and far-reaching consequences across all fields of geoscience (it provides the basis for relating many seemingly unrelated phenomena) it is critical for all geoscience students to attain a fundamental and conceptual understanding of this theory. We have created a high-fidelity learning-module, referred to as the PT-"Integrated Pedagogical Module" (IPM). The IPM is an educational instrument whereby a physics-based interactive computer simulation is used in tandem with an inquiry-based worksheet, namely the Guided Inquiry Worksheet (GIW). The GIW is a is a flexible "science-as-practice" tool which guides student-learning and inquiry as they manipulate physical variables and perform experimental analyses via the interactive-computer simulation which models the plate tectonic process. The simulated modeling environment provides students the opportunity to observe and explore the PT processes, interactions, and consequences while at the same time allows them to manipulate/measure process variables as well as to modify the model's time scale, i.e., to stop and/or slow or speed up the simulated process which in-turn aids student learning by making the interpretation of certain aspects of the phenomena easier. This presentation discusses evidence-based research demonstrating the student-learning benefit of the IPM for understanding plate tectonics. The effectiveness of the IPM pedagogy was attained by evaluating students' knowledge-gain and depth of understanding of the underlying scientific concepts consummated through the IPM. Additionally, student-learning behavior and exploration-engagement were assessed via independent/unbiased observation of the in situ pedagogical environment and student surveys.
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