Teach Geoscientific Thinking
The methods and ways of thinking that are intrinsic to Earth science differ in important ways from the experimental procedures that are commonly taught in schools as the scientific method. Geoscientists navigate easily within a range of temporal and spatial scales, incorporate the complexity of the Earth system into their reasoning, and develop multiple working hypotheses (1). Students in all disciplines can benefit from a better understanding of the way that geoscientists think and reason through a question, whether they are geoscience majors who will do research, education majors who will teach geoscience, economics majors who will assess the value of a resource or the impacts of climate change, or anyone who will need to make informed decisions about the risk of encountering a natural hazard.
Make Geoscientific Thinking Explicit
Geoscientific thinking is so ingrained for most college-level geoscience instructors, it is easy forget that students don't have yet have the same habits of mind. Teaching geoscientific thinking is not difficult, however—the single most important thing you can do is to simply make your thinking explicit.
- Think aloud to students as you reason through a geoscientific question or process in the field and in the lab;
- Include an activity or reading assignment with questions that focus on one or more aspects of geoscientific thinking;
- Ask students to explore the uncertainty in climate data and topographic data rather than just the data itself;
- Add reflective prompts to existing activities that involve open-ended inquiry or research projects;
- Ask students how and why they would address a problem rather than asking them to solve the problem, such as in designing a field investigation.
Being explicit involves articulating learning outcomes that focus on geoscientific thinking skills, designing activities that allow students to both develop and reflect on those skills, and assessing not only mastery of content, but mastery of geoscientific thinking skills. Keep in mind that habits of mind require repeated experience and practice to develop. As a result, geoscientific thinking is not a topic that fits at a single point in a course or curriculum, and the way it fits in will vary for different student groups.
See specific strategies for teaching geoscientific thinking to:
Improve Scientific Literacy through Geoscientific Thinking
Geoscientific thinking is a key component of scientific literacy. Aspects of it are highlighted in all of the literacy documents developed for Earth, ocean, atmosphere, climate, and energy sciences, reflecting the perception within all of these communities that understanding how we know what we know is essential knowledge.
Each of the literacy documents includes a big idea or essential principle focused explicitly on how we know what we know, the methods scientists use to collect data about the Earth and its systems, and the nature of our understanding of those systems.
- Earth science literacy Big Idea 1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
- Atmospheric science literacy Essential Principle 6: We seek to understand the past, present, and future behavior of Earth's atmosphere through scientific observation and reasoning.
- Climate science literacy Essential Principle 5: Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
- Ocean science literacy Essential Principle 7: The ocean is largely unexplored.
- Energy literacy Essential Principle 5: Energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors.
- Read accounts from faculty about how they incorporate geoscientific thinking into their teaching.
- Explore the literature about geoscientific thinking including geoscientific habits of mind, the nature and methods of geoscience, and teaching and learning.
- Explore presentations given at the 2012 Teaching the Methods of Geoscience workshop, linked from the workshop program. Browse courses and activities submitted by participants.
- Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences
Kim A. Kastens, Cathy Manduca 2012 Geological Society of America Boulder, CO