Pedagogies and Practices for Boosting Spatial Understanding of Fluid Earth Processes

Wednesday 1:30pm-4:00pm


Peggy McNeal, Towson University
Tim Shipley, Temple University
Heather Petcovic, Western Michigan University

Thinking and learning about fluid-Earth processes can be uniquely challenging for students. This workshop targets instructors of fluid-Earth science courses including meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, hydrogeology, and environmental science. After introducing participants to visuospatial challenges and misconceptions uncovered during investigations of student sensemaking of fluid behavior, we will collaborate and brainstorm hands-on activities for scaffolding student understanding. We will consider multiple models of fluid-Earth processes, including physical, conceptual, and computational models.


By the end of this workshop, participants will:

  • Explore the challenges of teaching spatially difficult concepts in fluid-Earth science courses
  • Share experiences using different models that may scaffold student learning
  • Access and discuss recent research about student understanding of fluid-Earth processes
  • Align spatially complex concepts to effective models in order to identify gaps in educational resources and research  
  • Become part of a network of educators interested in how to improve spatial thinking in fluid-Earth science courses


Private Workspace »

1:30 Welcome and introductions

1:45 Gallery walk

  • What models do you use? 
  • What concepts do you teach with models? 
  • Where do students struggle with spatially challenging concepts?

2:30 Small group discussion: Synthesize and summarize ideas generated by the gallery walk.

  • What instructional practices are most effective in developing spatial understanding and visualization of fluid-Earth processes? 
  • Which models best accompany these practices? How do different models transcend concepts and courses?

3:00 Interactive presentation: Visuospatial challenges and misconceptions revealed during investigations of student observations of fluid behavior in geoscience contexts.

3:15 Small group discussion: Align important concepts to models and identify gaps.

3:45 Wrap-up and workshop evaluation

4:00 Adjourn


New! USGS Water Cycle Model:

PhET Earth Science simulators:


Make a Cold Front with a Density Tank:

Classroom Ground Water Flow Model:

Stream Tables and Flumes:

GET Spatial:

Spatial Thinking in Solid-Earth Geoscience:

Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center: