River Profile Prediction

Nicole LaDue, Northern Illinois University
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2018 | Reviewed: March 2, 2023

Summary

Formative assessment questions using a classroom response system ("clickers") can be used to reveal students' spatial understanding. Students are shown one of these diagrams and told to either "Click on line A (C) where you expect the elevation of the river will be will be after it has eroded for 10 years."

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Context

Audience

Students in an introductory-level geoscience course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should know that rivers erode over time until they reach base level.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is used as a formative assessment question following a lecture or activity about river profiles. Displaying the results after administering the question provides students and instructor immediate feedback about how well students can visualize how changes in a river's profile will demonstrate erosion to base level.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals of this activity are:

  • to engage students in predicting how far a river will erode at various distances from the mouth of the river (spatial skill)
  • to evaluate whether students understand how elevation along a river will change as it erodes to base level (content skill)

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will make a spatial prediction, receive feedback, and modify their prediction based on the feedback.

Other skills goals for this activity

Not applicable

Science of Learning: Why It Works

There is accumulating evidence that engaging in spatial prediction and receiving feedback about the nature of one's errors leads to improved spatial reasoning (Gagnier et al. 2017; Resnick et al., 2017). Making a prediction, receiving feedback, and learning from the mismatch between the expected and actual outcomes is a process studied in cognitive science called the delta-rule model of learning (Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). Modern models of learning from the education research literature focuses on Piaget's concept of accommodation, where people will adjust their mental models as a consequence of the the feedback (Dole & Sinatra, 1998). Examples from research on geology concepts show us that students' build more scientifically accurate mental models after engaging in prediction and feedback. Gagnier et al. (2017) engaged students in making predictions about the interior of a geologic structure using block diagrams. The cycle of prediction and feedback facilitated students improved performance on a test of penetrative thinking. Resnick et al. (2017) engaged students in making predictions about the geologic time scale using a classroom response system (clickers). Students answered multiple-choice questions about the position of geologic events on a typical diagram of the geologic time scale. The spatial prediction clicker questions were as effective as, and more efficient than a hands-on meter stick activity at building a scientifically accurate linear conception of geologic time. Building on this research, we propose that the technique described below could be a useful approach to identify students' spatial conceptions associated with various geologic phenomena (LaDue et al., 2021; LaDue & Shipley, 2018).

Description and Teaching Materials

Several student response systems (clickers) offer a response option where you can upload an image and students can respond by clicking directly on the image. The system will generate a heat map of the responses. After teaching students about river profiles through lecture, videos, or an activity, use this question as a low stakes (low/no point-value) evaluation of their understanding of erosion to base level.

Revealing the results to students will show whether there is general consensus on one answer or more than one answer. For example, in the heat maps of students responses shown at right, students answers are dispersed along line A and line C. The first image demonstrates that students understand a river will down cut. The second image shows that some students do not understand that the down cutting will cease once the river has eroded to base level at a particular location, in this case at position C. A similar understanding is shown in the simplified base level diagram with no lines - some students click where the river meets the ocean, others think the river will only erode below the bottom of the lake level.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Using a technology-enhanced formative assessment (TEFA) approach, if the pattern of responses lacks consensus, engage the students in peer discussion about the answer (Beatty & Gerace, 2009). Allow students to "revote" for their answer after a brief discussion. If there is not convergence on the scientifically accurate answer, then engage in re-teaching the concept.

An alternative diagram was created with the associated question: "Click where a river flowing from the source meets base level." This diagram was created with less distractors and a lake along the profile to engage students in thinking about whether base level is local or regional.



Assessment

This question is useful for students to self-assess where their answer fits relative to other students in the class. Top Hat displays student responses in a heat map image that highlights the most common answers. In most systems it is possible to designate a region for the correct answer, but receiving a right-wrong answer is likely less useful than engaging students in peer discussion if the students' responses do not converge on one region.

References and Resources

Resources: There are several systems that offer click-on-diagram questions. The one we used is: https://tophat.com

References

Beatty, I. D., & Gerace, W. J. (2009). Technology-enhanced formative assessment: A research-based pedagogy for teaching science with classroom response technology. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(2), 146-162.

Dole, J. A., & Sinatra, G. M. (1998). Reconceptalizing change in the cognitive construction of knowledge. Educational psychologist, 33(2-3), 109-128.

Gagnier, K. M., Atit, K., Ormand, C. J., & Shipley, T. F. (2017). Comprehending 3D diagrams: Sketching to support spatial reasoning. Topics in cognitive science, 9(4), 883-901.

LaDue, N. D., Ackerman, J. R., Blaum, D., & Shipley, T. F. (2021). Assessing Water Literacy: Undergraduate Student Conceptions of Groundwater and Surface Water Flow. Water, 13(5), 622.

LaDue, N.D. and Shipley, T.F. (2018). Click-on-Diagram Questions: A New Tool to Study Conceptions using Classroom Response Systems. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 27(6), 492-507.

Rescorla, R. A., & Wagner, A. R. (1972). A theory of Pavlovian conditioning: Variations in the effectiveness of reinforcement and nonreinforcement. Classical conditioning II: Current research and theory, 2, 64-99.

Resnick, I., Newcombe, N. S., & Shipley, T. F. (2017). Dealing with big numbers: Representation and understanding of magnitudes outside of human experience. Cognitive science, 41(4), 1020-1041.