The Undergraduate Classroom and Lab Courses
How are minerals and rocks taught in introductory college geology labs? An evaluation of levels of utility and inquiry, with suggestions for improvement aligned with primary literature.
Meryssa Piper, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Jessica Frankle, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Sophia Sanders, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Blake Stubbins, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Lance Tully, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia
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Rock and mineral laboratory activities are an integral component of introductory geoscience courses, providing critical opportunities for students to apply what they learn in lecture. Despite the evidence that inquiry-based instruction increases science literacy skills, course engagement, and self-efficacy, introductory geoscience laboratory activities are commonly taught in a confirmation-based style, in which the students are expected to memorize facts rather than produce findings. Prior works indicated that of all STEM fields, geology laboratories, particularly rock and mineral activities, tend to be the least inquiry-based. However, these analyses rely on activities published in printed laboratory manuals. To test whether the same is true of instructor-generated activities, we measured the levels of inquiry and utility within introductory rock and mineral laboratory activities published in the Science Education Resource Center teaching collection. A detailed analysis of how these activities are structured in the context of inquiry (n = 36) and utility (n = 20) are provided. Inquiry analyses employed an adaptation of the modified Buck et al. (2008) rubric presented in Ryker and McConnell (2017). Utility analyses were performed using a newly developed nine-item rubric loosely modeled from McConnell et al. (2017). None of the examined assessments attained open or authentic inquiry. Laboratory activity inquiry ranged from confirmation (22%) to guided (17%), with the majority identified as structured (61%). The utility scores ranged from 12 - 24 on a scale ranging from 9 - 27 (i.e., most difficult to easiest implementation). The results provide no significant relationship between high levels of inquiry and low levels of utility (p-value > 0.1), contradictory to prevailing notions that increasing inquiry levels comes at the expense of utility. The rubrics utilized in and developed for this study could provide researchers with beneficial tools for further exploration of laboratory activities on other topics, or in different disciplines.
Locally grown fruit retains its soil signature: using the scanning electron microscope to bridge soil science to fruit spreads
Nina Baghai Riding, Delta State University
Larry Collins, Longwood University
Chuck Smithhart, Delta State University
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The need to transform the undergraduate laboratory experience in order to provide students access to authentic research opportunities has been well documented. At Delta State University, students enrolled in Materials and Methods of Environmental Science investigated whether fruit associated with different areas of the United States could correlate to soils in which they were grown. During the past five spring semesters (2017-2021), 25 noncommercial fruit spreads were studied: cactus marmalade from Tucson, Arizona, grape jelly from Mills, Massachusetts, blackberry jam and muscadine jelly from Cleveland, Mississippi, strawberry preserves from Fredericksburg, Texas, peach jam from Laurel, Virginia and Nampa, Idaho, blue elderberry jam and plum jam from Lincoln Co., Nevada and more. Each sample was cooked on a hot plate for a week and then divided into crucibles and placed in a Muffle Furnace for 24 hours at 1,000 °C to generate an ash. The ash samples were analyzed with an energy dispersive x-ray unit associated with a JEOL scanning electron microscope to determine elemental composition. The National Conservation Resource Service soil website was used to establish the local soil types that were associated with each sample. Altogether, 21 chemical elements were noted and many of the samples were associated with the local soils. For example, a calcium spike occurred in samples from Lincoln County, Nevada, which is probably due to limestone rich soils and samples from the Mississippi Delta yielded the most elements possibly due to periodic flooding by the Mississippi River and its tributaries that covered the area prior to levee construction. Overall, this study links geology, chemistry, soil science, and scientific methodology and the results are of broad relevance to the scientific community. Success of this project is further documented by peer-reviewed posters, an international paper, and presentations that have been given at professional conferences.
An Investigation of Undergraduate Students' Spatial Thinking about Groundwater
Holly White, University of Nebraska at Lincoln
Cory Forbes, The University of Texas at Arlington
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Undergraduate students may possess underdeveloped knowledge about water systems, particularly groundwater. The use of models and modeling have been employed in undergraduate classrooms to support students' learning about water. However, effective modeling requires spatial thinking skills, which undergraduate students may need to develop. To address this need, we developed a multi-week intervention involving an array of spatial thinking activities to support undergraduate students' use of a computer-based groundwater modeling tool. This intervention took place in an intro-level undergraduate water course. Students used the model to complete a task involving a groundwater contaminant scenario. Here, we report findings from a comparative study conducted in two consecutive semesters: Year 1 (n=56) and Year 2 (n=46), the latter of which involved the intervention. We explored their understanding of space, representation, and reasoning (NRC, 2006) by conducting quantitative and qualitative analyses on student tasks and interviews. Findings suggest that students in year 2 better articulated concepts of space. However, students in both years did not perform as expected on tools of representation or reasoning. Students exhibited a relatively limited understanding of representation within the model, particularly about contour lines. Students also struggled to reason about groundwater using information from the model. Overall, these results suggest students struggle with certain aspects of spatial thinking in relation to this groundwater modeling tool. These findings have implications for undergraduate teaching and learning about groundwater.
Changes in TA Beliefs from Teaching Inquiry-Based Activities in Introductory Geology Labs
Briana Donat, California State University-Chico
Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia
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Inquiry laboratory activities provide opportunities to engage undergraduates in introductory geoscience courses. Often, labs are considered the "hands-on" portion of introductory courses, but activities are a series of instructions and questions in a "cookbook" format that guide students to the right answer, but do not engage their curiosity or pursuit of scientific inquiry. New inquiry activities for introductory geology lab courses were developed in summer 2020 as part of a three-day workshop at EER. We studied the implementation of at least three new labs by teaching assistants (TAs) at three institutions in fall 2020. Previous research has shown that inquiry lab activities enhance undergraduate student learning and can be implemented by TAs with minimal training (1). However, teaching inquiry labs may also serve as professional development for TAs during early teaching experiences and disciplinary enculturation, which play pivotal roles in developing their teaching beliefs and practices (2). Comparison of Teacher Beliefs Interviews (3) from start and end of fall 2020 reveals changes in TA beliefs regarding their roles as instructors and ways they recognize student learning is happening in their class sessions. Interview coding uses five categories from Traditional to Reform-based beliefs (3). Preliminary comparison of interviews from pre- and post- teaching experiences suggests TA beliefs about their role as an instructor shift 1-2 categories towards Reform-based instruction. There appears to be less movement towards Reform-based beliefs in TAs descriptions of how students learn; TA beliefs stay in the same category or less frequently, move one step towards Reform-based instruction. The results from this work will be useful in characterizing the role that teaching experiences play in the evolution of a TA's teaching belief system and can inform the way science TAs are trained. (1) Ryker & McConnell, 2014; (2) Lane et al., 2019 (3) Luft & Roehrig, 2007
PublicSensors: Integrating student-built environmental sensors for community science into the classroom
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PublicSensors (and its Spanish language counterpart SensoresPublicos) is an educational initiative promoting STEM literacy through hands-on construction and use of environmental sensors, collection of community science-based data, and data interpretation. These active learning experiences provide exposure to engineering principles and skills that may benefit students beyond their educational endeavors and facilitate an understanding of environmental science through local hands-on applications. PublicSensors aims to address underserved K-12 through college students and their families by increasing access to technology-based science for diverse audiences, incorporating Next Generation Science Standards through technology and community outreach.PublicSensors leads sensor-building workshops for both remote and in-person learning with flexible grade-level content. Students and their families are loaned free activity kits, enabling them to construct environmental sensors (e.g. temperature, light, acoustic distance) and use them to study their own local environment. Using a tiered system of engagement, students first learn basic circuit building with beginner kits, then transition to intermediate kits where they build data loggers, and finally build advanced sensors that collect and report data in real-time. Students can also interact with their sensors via computer, gaining proficiency in computer science concepts through Python-based activities that enable further exploration of their sensors. Additional classroom modules are available adapting these basic sensors for underwater sonar and pH sensing. PublicSensors has conducted sensor-building programs for 5th grade through undergraduate students, as well as professional development training for high school teachers. Materials in both English and Spanish are freely available at PublicSensors.org and SensoresPublicos.org, with options to follow structured lessons or modify activities based on available resources, and require no previous technical experience. PublicSensors plans to serve as a community hub where participants can engage across classrooms and communities to share their experiences and environmental data.
Incorporating Pair Programming in a Meteorological Computer Applications Course
Casey Davenport, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
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In addition to the extensive topical content requirements in a bachelor of science degree in atmospheric science, one of the key skills and competencies that the American Meteorological Society recommends for undergraduate students lies within scientific computing and data analytics. Accordingly, many atmospheric science programs require a computer programming course, taught either "in house" or in a computer science department. Though computer programming may stereotypically be considered a solitary activity, prior work in engineering and computer science have demonstrated the numerous benefits of collaborative programming, otherwise known as pair programming. This approach involves two programmers working together to create a single program; one serves as the driver, writing the code, while another serves as the navigator, leading the driver and reviewing the code as it is written. These roles are switched frequently, and often result in higher quality code completed in less time. To the author's knowledge, the incorporation of pair programming in atmospheric science computer programming courses has yet to be documented. This presentation will outline the logistics involved in delivering and managing pair programming in a meteorological computer applications course fully online during the Spring 2021 semester, along with its benefits and challenges. Student feedback and student performance compared to prior iterations of the course will also be described.