Initial Publication Date: September 23, 2014

InTeGrate Pedagogy: Themes and Strategies for Teaching about Geoscience and Societal Issues

Teaching about multifaceted issues benefits from an approach that blends scientific inquiry with policy, problem-solving, and complex thinking. The InTeGrate project offers multiple pathways toward pedagogies that are well-suited for engaging students in these issues. This collection of teaching materials draws upon the collective wisdom of participants in the InTeGrate project and other educational projects that collaborate with SERC.

Five Themes of InTeGrate Pedagogy

The InTeGrate project stresses teaching of geoscience in the context of societal issues. How does that translate into day-to-day classroom teaching? The following five themes were established by the InTeGrate assessment team, and will be essential attributes of materials developed by this project.

Connect geoscience-related grand challenges facing societies

Grand challenges have clear and pressing relevance to our students, and these problems often benefit from a multi-discipline perspective. See pedagogic strategies and materials for teaching about energy, water and food.

Develop students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems

"Sustainability is the ultimate liberal art, requiring students to explore connections between disciplines and perspectives, evaluate claims of others, and examine their own choices," wrote Scott Cummings during a 2012 InTeGrate workshop. This sums up the need for students to embrace an interdisciplinary approach to solving societal challenges. The module, Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching, from the Pedagogy in Action project defines interdisciplinary teaching, describes the pedagogic advantages and provides concrete steps for bringing interdisciplinarity into your classroom.

Improve students' geoscientific thinking skills

The methods and ways of thinking that are intuitive to geoscientists differ in important ways from what is commonly taught as the scientific method, and thus offer unique approaches and insights to problems. Developing geoscientific thinking skills involves teaching about the nature of geoscience, the methods used by geoscientists, and geoscientific habits of mind. Read more about what we mean by geoscientific thinking and see pedagogic strategies and materials for teaching geoscientific thinking to all students, from pre-service teachers to general education students to geoscience majors.

Make use of authentic and credible geoscience data

While students often have a strong interest in environmental concerns, they may lack the analytical perspective that allows them to identify and evaluate solutions. Working with authentic data can simultaneously teach the methods of a data-based approach while also illuminating a particular topic. Find pedagogic guidance for how to bring data into your classroom in the module, Teaching with Data. Browse a collection of over 100 geoscience activities that use datasets, fromOn the Cutting Edge .

Foster systems thinking

Societal challenges such as energy, climate change, food resources, poverty and hazards embody many of the hallmarks of systems thinking. They cut across human and natural systems, involve multiple interdependent variables that are changing over time, and imply future changes that are both critically important yet complex to predict. The Systems Thinking page presents pathways and examples useful for incorporating a systems approach into your teaching.

Teaching Strategies

InTeGrate supports teaching practices that employ effective pedagogy as defined through research and experience. The project emphasizes strategies that: (1) develop geoscience literacy in a broad array of students; (2) illuminate the process of science; and (3) build interdisciplinary problem-solving skills that connect Earth science with economic, societal and policy issues throughout the curriculum. We strive for widespread adoption of techniques and strategies known to increase student learning, improve recruitment, and promote retention. Some examples are described below.

Using local problems as a means to link to global solutions

Complex global problems sometimes appear impenetrable, which can lead to a sense of helplessness among students. But local problems can be used as examples of effective solutions and can serve as a bridge to global challenges. Students can join a wetland restoration project, embark on a personal challenge with The Lifestyle Project, or explore their local surroundings with a sustainable urban adventure.

Service learning

Service learning engages students in genuine problem-solving and brings their learning directly into the community. The page, Service Learning: Connecting Classroom Learning with Societal Issues highlights strategies and resources for using service learning to engage students in genuine problem-solving and bring their learning directly into their community.

Teaching with the campus community

The campus is a small-scale community with physical, economic, political, civic and natural systems. One's campus contains all the ingredients needed to get initiated in addressing societal issues. The module, Campus-Based Learning, offers strategies for using the campus environment in many different ways. Recently submitted examples include the Sustainability Project, Action to Enhance Sustainability and Sustainability Workshop: Green Building Seminar.

Creation of New Teaching Materials

A major effort of the InTeGrate project is to develop a new breed of teaching materials that can be utilized in general education courses, core courses within geoscience majors, courses for pre-service teachers, courses designed for other majors including environmental studies, social science, engineering, and other sciences, and courses for interdisciplinary programs. Read more about how InTeGrate is creating new teaching materials and see InTeGrate developed courses and modules.

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