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Plate Tectonics Q&A

This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Charlotte (Char) Mehrtens, University of Vermont
Course: Earth, Environments and Life Through Time
15 students
Surveying students to assess their prior knowledge serves two purposes: it helps students review information they have (theoretically) already learned, and it lets the instructor assess what their students remember from prior courses.

The Activity

I lead a question and answer session to survey their level of understanding of plate tectonics, the one common subject that everyone should have had regardless of which acceptable prerequisite class they had. I focus on what we still don't know about various aspects.... Many students come out of introductory courses thinking everything has been completely figured out. They receive a lot of positive feedback for asking good questions. Of course, this latter aspect is what I think is so important to the class - students realize that they can think "important thoughts" that are "cutting edge."