Initial Publication Date: October 9, 2017

Incorporate Expert Ways of Thinking about Earth

What does it mean to be an expert thinker?

Experts' knowledge is organized around core concepts that provide structure to a vast amount of content (1). That structure makes knowledge easy to retrieve and build upon. Experts tend to have a strong capacity for systems thinking and are interdisciplinary problem solvers; expert geoscience thinkers organize their knowledge spatially, temporally, and geographically (2) - these are the hallmarks specific to geoscientific thinking.

How do we help students develop these expert thinking skills?

Expert thinking skills are ingrained for most instructors - they are experts - and as such, it is easy to forget that students are novices. It is not sufficient to simply use expert strategies in your teaching (3). Instead, the strategies need to be explicitly called out and described in connection with content. Students need to gain experience using expert thinking skills and strategies in order to become familiar with them. Courses, from introductory to advanced, are the ideal venue for developing expert thinking skills.

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Learn About Expert Thinking

No matter what your field, developing your own understanding of what constitutes expert thinking in your own discipline can help you teach it better. Developing an understanding of the perspectives of your colleagues in other disciplines, including their expert thinking strategies, can help foster a culture of collaboration and facilitate interdisciplinary research and teaching.

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Pedagogic Approaches

The following tips and methods can help you get your students started down the path to becoming expert thinkers:

Resource Collections

  • The Teaching with Current Research and Data Site Guide offers a gateway to several projects aimed at helping instructors teach with real data and models, many of which include example teaching activities.
  • The Quantitative Skills, Thinking, and Reasoning Site Guide offers collections of example teaching activities and resources related to improving quantitative skills and literacy from several projects.
  • The Earth Exploration Toolbook uses datasets and analysis tools to teach students about the Earth system.
  • The Teaching with Data pages from Pedagogy in Action provide tips and ideas for integrating teaching with data into your course. While the pages are focused at the introductory geoscience level, the materials are applicable to a range of disciplines.

Teaching Activities


  1. How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school
    J. Bransford, A.L. Brown, R.R. Cocking 1999 National Academy Press Washington, D.C.
  2. Geoscience and geoscientists: Uniquely equipped to study Earth
    C. A. Manduca, K. A. Kastens 2012 GSA Special Paper 486
  3. Research in science education: The expert-novice continuum
    H.L. Petcovic 2007 Journal of Geoscience Education v. 5, no. 4, p. 333-339

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