October 13, 2011: Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences

This colloquium is intended as an introduction to research on thinking and learning in the Geosciences, pitched for an audience who know a lot about geosciences and not so much about education research. As geoscientists, we ask our brains to make sense of an object larger than the human senses can encompass at one time, older than any time span with which humans have direct experience, which is not susceptible to experimental manipulation, whose crust at any given point has experienced superimposed chemical, physical and biological events, where flows of matter and energy intertwine at a bewildering level of complexity. How do we pull this off? The talk is organized in three concentric rings: The first and broadest ring situates geoscience education research amid physics education research, chemistry education research, drawing on the current National Research Council study on “Discipline-based Education Research.” The middle ring draws from the current Synthesis of Research on Thinking & Learning in the Geosciences project, and explores four key themes: spatial thinking in geosciences, temporal thinking in geosciences, systems thinking in geosciences, and teaching and learning in the field. The most-tightly focused and final section of the talk will dig into one of my own research projects: an effort to understand how geoscientists and geoscience students integrate information from scattered outcrops to form a mental model of a geologic structure.

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