The Handbook of Research on Science Education Chapter … “Learning Earth Sciences”

Authors: Nir Orion and Charles R. Ault, Jr.

1. Introduction
Great news! I’ve just been accepted into graduate school in geology with the opportunity to work on a terrific research project. Among other opportunities and challenges, the professor I’ll work with would like someone to do a photographic survey of the Lower Colorado River along the same route as traversed by an expedition of 150 years ago and documented in journals and watercolor paintings. The aim is to compare habitats and channels today with those from the past within the context of reconstructing climate trends in western North America. The work would be very similar to what I did in Argentina on my fellowship last year, where I visited Charles Darwin’s fossil collecting locales and compared his journal entries as well as sketches of landscapes made by the Beagle’s artist with present day photographs. I am very exited about getting started. I can’t believe that there is a project in geology so similar to what I have dreamed about doing. --Message from the second author’s son The indirect quotation above is from a real situation. It captures the challenges and opportunities for graduate study in earth science that echo the themes and claims developed in this chapter. The message is about a research opportunity and the nature of authentic inquiry. The proposed research crosses several disciplines, though is housed in geology and geomorphology. Extrapolations from the study have importance to understanding climate change on different scales in time and space. The data include works of art found in historical literature. The reconstruction of past habitats and the extrapolation of future ones serve the public interest in terms of guiding human actions in response to environmental change. The research has intrinsic appeal to some, social value to many. It is an example of what earth scientists at the dawn of the 21st Century are doing. This example of a message from an excited new graduate student presents tangible imagery consistent with an idealized set of characteristics tentatively proposed in this chapter as representative of the earth sciences. Section 1, “Distinctive characteristics,” 1

introduces these features, suggesting that they are features of earth sciences with particular importance for teaching and learning. There follows a profile of earth science education worldwide, including trends evident over the past twenty-five years. This profile focuses on significant reforms in geosciences education undertaken at the very end of the 20th century: the trend away from disciplinary-based science education towards an integrative, environmentally-based, earth systems approach, in part a consequence of profound expectations for the science K-12 curriculum stemming from the “Science for All” movement. “Learning earth sciences,” Section 2 of this chapter, continues with careful attention to the empirical record of learning earth sciences in schools. Section 2 identifies the main characteristics of earth science education in the schools, such as the integration of subjects within earth sciences and between earth sciences and environmental education. Section 2 then proceeds to examine the cognitive aspects of learning earth sciences: misconceptions, spatial visualization, temporal thinking, and systems thinking. This section ends by reporting on the integration of learning environments within the earth sciences and the prospects for cultivating environmental attitudes and insights from learning earth sciences. The learning environments reviewed are: the outdoor and indoor classrooms, the earth science laboratory, and the virtual world of computer environments. Today’s ambitious reform agenda guided in general by the principle of “science for all” and in particular by a theme of “citizen science” within earth and environmental education scaffolds Section 3. Here the concern becomes how well, or how poorly, teachers have adapted to calls for changing their philosophies of teaching: their instructional goals, content priorities, value contexts, and teaching practices. Section 3 deals with the difficulties of reforming earth science education for science teachers who have limited content knowledge and who may lack motivation to deal with new priorities among subjects, unfamiliar learning environments, and changes in teaching strategies. The chapter concludes with by challenging researchers to study teaching and learning in the earth sciences not only as historically practiced in the traditional sense of disciplinary based curriculum, but also as increasingly practiced, according to emerging idealizations, as integrated study. The conclusion acknowledges that, from a research 2

perspective, we know very little about teaching and learning earth sciences when they have been thoroughly contextualized: for example, in the context of inquiry about changes in the climate of western North America. Such contexts value knowledge for the sake of making public policy, not only theory-building and model-testing within the earth sciences. Such contexts find promising data not only in records of sediments, but also in historical photography, journals, and art. The chapter ends, in effect, with the challenge to the next generation of researchers of learning earth sciences to embrace ambitious integration and social contextualization as essential features of the subject. At the same time, we make the call to preserve distinctive characteristics of the earth sciences when setting objectives for student learning.

1.1 Distinctive characteristics
Evaluating the stature, role, and distinctiveness of learning earth sciences faces difficulties largely avoided in the physical and life science fields that dominate science education and research about teaching and learning sciences. There are any number of historical reasons for its perceived low status and an equal number of reasons to call for elevating its stature within the context of science education for all. More immediately, there is a need to characterize the crucial features of the earth sciences adequately and appropriately for the purpose of setting limits on the scope of research about learning earth sciences for this chapter. Every subject has something important to offer science for all. Much of the challenge to curriculum designers intent upon reaching the goal of science for all is one establishing priorities. There are limits on time, resources, and cognitive development that must be respected. To begin this process, we suggest focusing on those features of the field deemed important to organizing teaching and learning. These features ought to encompass (1) an “intellectually honest” (Bruner, 19xxx) portrait of what scientists do (e.g., date rocks radiometrically) and know as well as (2) ideas with high “conceptual worth” (Toulmin, 19xxx) that have advanced thinking and solving problems through time (e.g., the law of superposition). The host of individual fields that comprise the earth sciences and the need to integrate these subjects within schools makes characterizing their distinctive features imperative. Furthermore, characterizing crucial features of a subject 3

1 What are the earth sciences about? Simply everything beneath our feet and above our heads. with concern as well for how our collective actions fit within these realms.1. Clearly. Such a 4 . For this chapter our questions are: 1. Nevertheless. “What’s so important to learn from earth science Let us emphasize this notion of “distinctiveness” on four levels: disciplinary. What distinctive features of earth science education merit the attention of researchers and curriculum authors? 1. Approaches to pedagogy must demonstrate their responsiveness to such distinctive cognitive challenges (making use of outdoor learning or field study. oceanography. pedagogical. for example).begins the process of determining its distinctive potential to make contributions to science Comment: I suggest to ommit this paragragh from two reasons: 1) We say it later in several places so if we have to cut this won't cause any harm. climatology and even astronomy. a definitive characterization of the crucial features of the earth sciences remains well beyond the scope of this (and perhaps any other) chapter. about the interactions of these systems with each other and us with them. What are the earth sciences about? Comment: I think that we can omit this section since by pointing on the distinctive features we also say in what we are differ. meteorology. The question is. for example). Derived most explicitly from the geosciences. They are about all of the phenomena addressed by an extensive array of disciplines as well as about how these different disciplines understand the same phenomena from different perspectives. are ones useful to curriculum design. the use of the label “earth sciences” encompasses a host of fields and subfields in geology. Since we have to cut this is a place that I feel that cutting causes no harms. hydrology. framing the scope of research about teaching and learning earth sciences. and socio-historical. The endpoint for characterization of a subject’s distinctive potential is consideration of its social and historical context: how knowing about climate change and its scale may matter in the personal and social lives of citizens. then turns to cognitively distinctive challenges for learning these phenomena (psychological misconceptions about geologic time. To learn about the earth sciences is to learn about complex systems on many scales in time and space. there are heuristically useful questions to pose in the search for distinctive features of the earth sciences. for example) that are distinctive to the discipline. psychological. and promoting science for all. 2) I am not sure that I can collapse ES to a one ward and if I had to do I am not sure that I would chose scales. to repeat. for example. learning for all. Characterization of the crucial features of a subject begins with attention to phenomena of interest (history of the earth. 2. These features.

This strategy of compare and contrast has proven essential to forming understandings of earth’s complex features and systems that have resulted from long and complex histories. Indeed. planetary coalescence. storm generation.1. the psychology of learning earth science concepts unveils what is cognitively distinctive about this field (or set of fields) as well.characterization unifies. at some level of resolution. This insight into the nature of categorization of rocks. 19xxx cite here). the common concerns of the several earth science disciplines. Gould has characterized approaches to problem solving in geology. as a distinctive historical style of argument and explanation in science (Gould. American Sci. features distinct from other examples of the category. from Lyell and Darwin forward. magma distillation. mountain building. resembling these fields in some important ways. volcanoes. and evolution. Ault from JRST. river deltas.g. The earth sciences are both similar to and distinct from other fields of science. Shifting Theories—with its bibliography to check. From Dodick. the task of characterizing learning earth sciences is not intractable. yet distinct from other disciplines.. clouds. but differing in other. refs. perhaps even more important respects—permeates not only research about learning the earth sciences but also the explanatory approach to many earth science problems themselves. As a consequence of individual history. and Drifting Continents. to an important degree. Daunting as this opening assertion may seem. each example of a basic category has. ice age onset. when turned toward the examination of geological explanations in general and the concept of geologic time in particular. Gould from American Scientist. This sense of duality—similar to.2 What distinctive features of earth science education merit the attention of researchers and curriculum authors? In part. The objects of explanation—e. moons. paleontology. the history and philosophy of science. 1. earthquake frequency—have unique histories. where fundamental entities come in 5 .) In part. seafloor topography. and other objects of interest to the earth (and space) sciences contrasts with the situation easily noted in chemistry and physics. reveal characteristic features of thought in the earth sciences (xxx Kitts.

eg. In turn. At the same time. Hanson): protons.g. 6 . to scientific inquiry (e. and the distinction between fundamental entities that have complex and distinguishing histories (for example. electro-magnetic field. Quite obviously. learning earth sciences no doubt presents challenges and opportunities that resemble those common to other sciences.. as alluded to above. This acknowledgment brings us squarely to the problem of how distinctive features characteristic of the earth sciences have particular consequences for teaching and learning. Darwin’s account of the reefs around coral atolls of the Pacific: the islands as a sampling distribution across space and through time of what happens to a volcanic island as it rises and subsides over immense. The historical approach. with consequences for its representation and analysis (xxx Driver paper on constructivism cited here). both from the perspective of the history and philosophy of science and from the perspective of the cognitive psychology of learning science. Indeed. the study of teaching and learning the earth sciences may reveal aspects of the field that distinguish it from others. Tentatively. five features of inquiry in the earth sciences useful to examining learning earth sciences are: 1. solar energies) refers more properly to endpoints of a continuum. For each of the five features below. rather than to incommensurable opposites. At an important level.categories whose members are quite often utterly indistinguishable from each other (xxx Ault paper may have original author to credit. most subjects are hybrids of theorizing and categorization. atoms of carbon. there appears an example adding a measure of tangibility. Five features (best described as “working hypotheses”) appear distinctive of the challenges and opportunities afforded by learning earth sciences. rule-governed ways (for example. unwitnessed durations). pioneered by Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. these are abstractions intended (or hypothesized) to characterize large swaths of inquiry. subjects depart from each other ontologically—in how they frame what is most salient about reality. solar bodies) and those basic aspects of reality that differ from each other in well-determined.

features distinctive of earth science inquiry. “deep time” and the construction of the geologic time scale). These begin with attention to the historical methods of inquiry pioneered at the dawn of geology and continue through appreciation of visualization to data representation and reasoning. learning earth sciences has distinctive challenges and opportunities.g. clean both air and water. 3 (large scale). such as ocean currents and storms.. particularly numbers 2 (complex systems).2. 3. the several “spheres”: hydro.. 4. and global scales. When geologic scale and historical complexity 7 . The most important of these themes stems from the realization that human action impacts earth systems on global scales. The concern for complex systems acting over the earth as whole (e. suggest themes at a more general level. these abstracted. Human communities consume earth resources and depend upon earth systems for the disposal of wastes. The conceptualization of very large-scale phenomena through time and across space (e. the validation of meteor impact hypotheses with evidence gathered across scales from mineral crystal to regional topography). both as an obstacle to cognitive insight (phenomena happening on vast scales. In brief. degradation. the role of geologic maps. The concept of scale permeates historical methods and visualization tasks..g. and the modeling of structures and dynamic processes. and their interaction with the biosphere) as well as analysis of their subsystems on more regional and local scales. maintain habitat and biological diversity. yet still quite tangible. scarcity. regional. in three dimensions). In conclusion. there would appear to be no clear or useful demarcation between learning earth sciences and learning environmental sciences..g. The need for visual representation as well as high demand upon spatial reasoning (e. Understood in concert. well beyond the purview of human experience) and an arbiter of convincing explanation (solutions to problems on different scales must cohere).g. and 5 (integration across scales). geo. Too obviously. and ameliorate climatic variation. people acting collectively have become geologic agents and their societies can change climates across local. The integration across scales of solutions to problems (e. and pollution reach levels that threaten human communities or interfere with vital “ecosystem services” that undergird agricultural productivity. Hence. 5. contour maps. atmos.

Our claim is not that this profile of what makes learning earth sciences distinctive belongs exclusively to learning earth sciences. this immediate relevance to social responsibility. starting from the unrestricted premise that their domain is everything under our feet and over our heads) combine to produce a whole that is more than the study of a branch of science. visualization. historical method. and relationship to social responsibility. environmental issues. and systems thinking. earth systems thinking emerges.2 Shifting profiles The stature and role of learning earth sciences in keeping with the goal of science for all has shifted in recent decades. through thinking in terms of dynamic systems. What does learning earth sciences. yet not intractable. to a profile that stresses stewardship and citizenship—make for a daunting. multidisciplinary study. along with less general and more tangible features such as scale (in two senses: large scale and crossing scales). an additional distinctive feature of learning earth sciences. Examples of this shift exist worldwide and these examples answer questions such as: 1. Taken together. the several working hypotheses about distinctive features of earth sciences—from cognitive challenges such as visualization. all disciplines would hopefully make claim to holding implications for the preparation of citizens for lives of social responsibility in democratic societies to one degree or another. when linked to environmental education. invariably lie close to the surface when undertaking to learn earth sciences.are combined with basic ideas from physical and life sciences. How has the profile of earth science education changed in recent decades? 3. this holism. The point is simply that the general themes of interdisciplinary study. challenge of characterization. with implications for preparing citizens of democracies for lives of social responsibility. These distinctive features of the subject (useful as hypotheses defining the range of what constitutes learning earth sciences. is. 1. What status does and should earth science occupy in school science? 2. It is a field of learning inseparable from environmental issues and sciences. offer as part of science education for all? 8 . Moreover. with attention to dynamism on global scales of interest.

Science in Personal and Social Lives).1 What status does and should learning earth sciences occupy in school science? At the level where distinctions between earth and environmental sciences melt away. interdisciplinary. The sciences often strive to remain rather silent and noncommittal on the nature of moral agency and ethical behavior. social systems for setting policy and personal decisions about life style inevitably must blunder. This holism encompasses social sciences and humanities as well: the concept of value and the ethics of caring about the human condition being well addressed within these fields. and therefore. this branch of science education is preeminently and necessarily multidisciplinary. the infusion of earth science topics within Comment: it seems to me that reading is more fluent without this section. 1.2. poverty and wealth. and holistic.1. However. converged upon environmental education in nations around the globe. and the human condition (xxx cite NSES content strand. of the potential for society to exist in profitable harmony with earth resources. it is a domain of science learning at the cusp of citizenship.2 How has the profile of learning earth sciences changed in recent decades? In many respects education in earth sciences has. This conversation is at the same time one about the nature of democratic institutions for governing the use of earth resources and impacting earth systems. The time has come for science education to situate itself squarely within the educational conversation about social justice. changes in curriculum have often treated the subject more from the perspective of integration and systems (holism) rather than from the perspectives of separate disciplines (reductionism). Because the features distinctive of the earth sciences so clearly align with and contribute to these aims. in fact.2. Because the domains of earth sciences so demonstrably coincide with environmental issues. the educational system is still a long and complicated task. sustainability. a context for learning attitudes about the role of science in society. Citizens with knowledge of earth sciences clearly have some capacity to choose (or hold leaders accountable for choosing) policies in light of their consequences for earth systems. Yet without knowledge gained from the sciences. there arises another general theme of extraordinary importance: the conduct and understanding of sciences in social (therefore value) contexts. 9 . In addition. as idealized in the preceding paragraph.

the processes of science. The Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS. and the development of personal-social goals (Bybee & Deboer. The reductionist or disciplinary paradigm works reasonably well in keeping with the goal of science education as a preparation of a nation’s new generation of scientists. there is confidence that by studying the earth sciences children might develop such an understanding. The new “science for all” paradigm perceives the main goal of science education in schools as a preparation for the nation’s new citizens. 1993). calls for major reforms in relation to the goals and teaching and learning strategies of science in schools. This document. and the United States). From this point of view. Taiwan. document advocates a balance between scientific knowledge.Reductionist philosophy has historically constrained the introduction of earth sciences within school science curricula because the importance accorded by reductionist philosophy to the disciplines of physics. it has serious limitations. 1989). The shift towards a science for all paradigm has placed the earth sciences in a better position within the science curricula of several countries (for example. Reduction of science literacy to competence within these three fields has allowed relatively limited time for learning earth sciences. Another movement influencing the profile of earth sciences education in schools is the shift from direct instruction towards constructivist pedagogy (Novak teach for 10 . which has rapidly influenced other nations all over the world. defined minimal levels of scientific literacy for all sciences by outlining objectives for all K-12 students. in essence. and biology. the American Association for the Advancement of Science published the document Science for All Americans (AAAS. Israel. In 1990. chemistry. 1990). which followed the Science for All Americans. the United Kingdom. From the perspective of science for all. The United Kingdom has adopted a similar approach in the new National Curriculum for England and Wales (Department of Education and Science [DES]. 1993). Nations. This new paradigm. a part of the AAAS Project 2061. have accepted that one of the tasks of science education in schools is to develop environmental awareness and insight among future citizens. gives the earth sciences topics a more central status among the other topics of the science curricula (Tomorrow 98. in part influenced by the socio-political “Green” movement. Science for All Americans. 1994).

“Is the concept adequate to the purpose it serves?” rather than “Is the idea true?” From a constructivist standpoint. Conceptual change theory. category systems) play within the epistemology of a subject. Smith has elaborated upon conceptual change theory by describing the understanding it fosters as “usefulness in a social context” (Smith. xxx 19. In addition. Driver. The concept of sea floor spreading. Now. 19xxx). Osborne & Wittrock. for instance. pedagogy ought to engage students in learning meaning through the use of concepts rather than expecting them to learn ideas simply from listening to lectures and studying texts. using historical examples of major shifts in scientific conceptualizations. resolved anomalies in the pattern of magnetic fields recorded on ocean bottom rocks (a pattern detected incidentally and puzzlingly during attempt to detect enemy submarines during World War II. such as Driver (19xxx). Constructivists. 1995). 1985. Driver xxx constructivist paper. in addition.understanding xxx. diagrams. the importance representations of reality (models. Learners must assume personal responsibility to construct these representations and compare their thinking with that of others while in pursuit of the goal of “achieving shared meaning” (Gowin. focuses on the importance of examining the adequacy of ideas in the context of constructing an explanation or making predictions. cite shifting theory book here 19xxx). Guesne & Tiberghien. Conceptual change theory (Posner. 1985. This conception of understanding supports movement towards holistic curriculum while respecting the disciplinary origin of an idea. Conceptual change theory recognizes that beliefs about knowledge and conceptions of explanation shape student interests and efforts as they attempt to learn science. The constructivist approach acknowledges that individuals must construct new understandings in light of personal experience and private meanings. understandings of geologic hazards due to seismic and volcanic activity depend upon 11 . recognize. they are intelligible in terms of current understanding and fruitful in the creation of new knowledge. equations. A constructivist might ask. Smith xxx) has also exerted a strong influence over science teaching. Sea floor spreading made plausible the notion of drifting continents. the concept has proven enormously fruitful as a component (and precursor) of plate tectonic theory. Ideas that are adequate resolve anomalies in plausible ways. 19xxx). Bezzi.

Bybee (1993) uses the expression “the orange light has turned red” to demonstrate how serious the problem has become. No doubt many students are exposed in their daily lives or through the mass media to environmental issues such as earthquakes.knowledge of plate tectonic theory. Problems. He wishes to heed the call to preserve the natural environment and to limit human damage to it. and much more. projects. and issues often provide a proper context for promoting meaningful. hurricanes. These topics are contextual goldmines from a constructivist standpoint. has turned this knowledge into usefulness in a social context. he sees the need to internalize and understand his contact with nature. Many countries have undertaken to reform science teaching by placing greater emphasis on the dynamic systems of the earth. when linked to environmental education. journeying to Mars. 12 . from building codes to tsunami alerts. Constructivism and holism have influenced the profile of learning earth sciences in another and very fundamental way: the growing interest in earth systems education. 2002) and Implementing “Global science literacy” (Mayer. These efforts are well presented through two books written and edited by Vic Mayer: Global science literacy (Mayer. landslides and avalanches. global atmospheric changes. offer as part of science education for all? As previously noted. earth sciences education has shifted towards an environmental and interdisciplinary based approach in many parts of the world. These books include works from nearly 30 authors from 15 different countries who describe the active implementation of new ideas about geosciences education often based upon the earth systems approach. the environmental perspective has gained great prominence in western society.2. As we enter the 21st century.3 What does learning earth sciences. volcanoes. pollution of the ocean. learning. even independent. opportunities to engage students in the construction of meaning through the use of concepts in personally relevant contexts. Public policy. Mayer’s work describes earth systems science as a framework for student learning very robustly. sources of fresh water. 2002). floods. As a person entering the 21st century. 1. energy resources. This development has been accelerating in view of the understanding that present human behavior could bring destruction to many of the earth’s ecological systems.

Pickering and Owen. might still mean reductionism—reductionism repeated many times in many ways. In pursuit of a very ambitious agenda intended to reorganize our perspectives of the earth. he proposes that environmental research should be carried out with a multi-disciplinary. there remains the issue of holism versus reductionism to resolve. Apart from the nearly self-evident proposition that any phenomena can (and should) be understood from multiple perspectives. however. Calls for holism in explanation and for understandings adequate to the task of interpreting complex systems go beyond calling upon multiple disciplines. For decades a new field has grown rapidly: “Environmental Geology. Something categorically different is called for: hierarchical thinking.Increasingly. 1994). Lovelock (1991) points out that the planet earth is composed of several dynamic. Feedback loops linking these systems suggest for Lovelock that the earth functions holistically as a super-organism.” This field embraces most of the topics traditionally addressed in the earth sciences topics. 1983. The trend of increased multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research within the sciences and across science and other fields has had a conspicuous impact on the earth sciences. holistic approach. at least metaphorically if not empirically. scientific research yields understandings of how the natural systems of the earth function. New knowledge informs us about the reciprocal relations natural systems have with human activity. more holistic context. There is no need to see holistic and reductionistic approaches in opposition to each other. as opposed to the reductionist approach in which scientists specialize in a specific narrow field and fail to interpret their research within a wider. He states that only by developing a multi-dimensional perspective can one understand the global picture. They are best conceived of as 13 . In this light. but from the perspective of the reciprocal relations natural systems have with human activity (Tank. Such knowledge offers guidance to persons wishing to use resources in an ecologically responsible manner as they improve upon their understanding of humanity’s relationship with nature as Bybee advocates. inter-related systems. though they certainly may be in competition. Multiple specializations applied to solving a particular problem may yield to multiple ideas about its solution. Multi-disciplinary.

being related through a hierarchy consisting of different levels of organized ideas responsive to different levels of observation (Ahl and Allen. a gaseous. in effect. there is more to earth science (and life science) theorizing than applying and extending basic physical science. Newtonian mechanics to problems of motion). Explanations for a phenomenon are typically cast in a language quite different from the one used for an initial description and hence at a different level of organized ideas. pressure. consider the eruption of a Cascade volcano in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. the application of classical. These explanatory terms often have wide generality and usefulness across a range of phenomena (for example. This simplified summary of Hierarchy theory simply underscores the argument that not all that is interesting can be satisfactorily accounted for with ideas from chemistry and physics. thinking hierarchically means giving credence to the idea that there can be increasing complexity to phenomena. For example. 19xxx). temperature. Patterns of interaction may emerge at higher levels of observation that are not reducible to existing explanatory terms from a lower level. lower implies analysis in terms of interacting components and their properties. phase change) completely different from those that describe the event itself (melted rock and ash cloud). Interpreting the significance of a phenomenon means placing it in context at a higher level of description. later. Higher levels place the phenomenon of interest in a context that aids interpretation and indicates it significance. means a reduction of the description of the complex problem to the simplified terms of explanation. Thinking responsive to the need to account for emergent patterns (complexity) may add levels to the hierarchy. Lower. Lower levels offer explanation in terms of entities more fundamental and universal than the phenomenon in need of an explanation. Reductionism casts the event in a set of terms (chemical composition. The explanation of a particular eruption at a reductionist level depends upon an analysis in terms of geophysics and geochemistry. “Lower” in this sense means translation of the initial description into a new set of terms proven successful in achieving an explanation. result from phase changes 14 . Magma forms at depth as rock melts. in part. The eruptive events. ash-laden cloud bursts forth from the surface of the earth. In addition.

in turn. with different properties subject to measurement. 19xxx). Measurements of these fundamental properties replace descriptions of appearance as the analysis proceeds towards a satisfactory explanation. In briefest terms. categorization. good understanding requires analysis in terms of both higher and lower levels of observation. plate boundaries are recognized as likely zones of volcanic activity (contextual interpretation) and this interpretation extends the idea of cause. Ahl and Allen define a “complex system” as one in which fine details are linked to large outcomes” (19xxx pp. understanding the eruption of a Cascade volcano demands placing the eruption in a more general. The reductionist terms (temperature. Volcanic arcs themselves call for explanation and the terms of the explanation are found in plate tectonic theory. However. for any system may be observed on a number of levels: 15 . potential and kinetic energy) do not narrow the analysis. Any system is complex or simple depending upon whether it is understood in terms of fine details being linked to large outcomes or in terms of disaggregated parts whose interactions are unambiguous and not subject to the fine detail/large outcome criterion. In terms of Hierarchy theory (Ahl & Allen. 29-30). and representation at each level. is the context that provides significance and interpretation for the eruption of a Cascade volcano.caused by changes in chemistry. 19xxx. This theory. geological context. They abstract the phenomena into formal categories with extraordinarily wide utility—a framework that works in many contexts where explosive forces operate. pressure and temperature. Perhaps a massive landslide ensues. the reductionist path does not bear completely satisfactory fruit. At the same time. a physical imbalance of pressure resulting from phase change and friction produces magma and causes an eruption (reductionist explanation). Slope failure translates into the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy. volcanic or otherwise. Allen & Hoekstra. pressure. Complexity resides both in the nature of the phenomena and in the explanatory commitment of the observer. phase change. Cascade volcanoes form an arc running parallel to a subduction zone at the convergent boundary of the North American continental and Juan de Fuca oceanic plates. at the same time.

We suspect that as the ideas of Hierarchy theory make inroads into the sciences. and scale of observation is fixed by the measurement protocol. at least when disaggregated. 1994. and levels of explanation hold salience. In addition. levels of organization. Hierarchy theory underscores the importance of high level characterization of phenomena (holism) together with the value of low level ones (reductionism) to meaningful understanding. Earth sciences offer the student—the future citizen—the knowledge and the ability to draw conclusions regarding issues such as: conservation of energy and water as well as proper utilization of global resources. the teaching of earth sciences may raise students’ awareness of 16 . the environmental imperative has achieved a central position in the field of earth science education.In order to describe adequately a complex system. levels of explanation. Indeed.. 1990. Systems thinking. several levels need to be addressed simultaneously. there will be profound implications for what science for all becomes. 1995 and Orion. reductionist approaches to complex systems. Combined with constructivist paradigm. hierarchy theory offers an alternative to mechanical. and attention to scale and complexity bind learning earth sciences and environmental sciences at an abstract level. Several publications that appeared during the 90’s (e. 30). Brody. (Ahl & Allen. 1996) stated that one of the advantages of studying the earth sciences is the development of environmental awareness and insight. the key question for good explanation becomes. hierarchy theory. levels of observation. Earth systems and ecosystems are clearly domains where ideas of scale. holistic explanation. This is an ambitious agenda for science for all. levels of organization. Mayer and Armstrong. By focusing on issues of scale. Mayer. Levels may be ordered according to the scale at which each operates. p. “Are the levels of the hierarchy adequate to the need for understanding?” The implication for pedagogy is that context matters just as much as mechanistic explanation. and relationships between these levels. Reductionism deals with complexity [sic] by narrowing [the] focus on systems parts so closely that they are forced to appear simple.g. Complexity therefore involves relating structures and processes that are observed at different scales.

1. students who understand the environment in which they live and the processes taking place in it might better know how to preserve it and how to behave within it. atmosphere and biosphere. which convened in 1997 in Hawaii. the water cycle. 1996). This model also connects the natural world and technology together.2. 1997). and in the world. in their country. There are many differences. of course. which is termed technology. hydrosphere. 1996. but integral parts of the biosphere. The study of these cycles also emphasizes the relationships between the different subsystems via transitions of matter and energy from one subsystem to another (based on laws of conservation). Likewise. There is a close relationship between these two characteristics— science and technology—as the progress of one contributes to the development of the other. rather than being isolated to their specific scientific domains. 1996. this model emphasizes two of these: People's ability to produce tools. and energy cycles (which are included in all of these cycles). since all raw materials originate from the earth systems (predominantly from the geosphere and 17 . Orion and Fortner (2003) suggested the “Earth systems approach” as a holistic framework for science curricula that integrates earth science education together with environmental education.what is happening around them. which convened in 1993 in England. People are introduced in this model as unique. The study of each subsystem is organized around geochemical and bio-geochemical cycles including the rock cycle. Orion. Such natural cycles should be discussed within the context of their influence on people's daily life. It was suggested that the starting point for this integrated model is the natural world. and People's natural curiosity and ability to investigate his environment. which is understood by studying the four earth systems: geosphere. the food chain. between people and other organisms. the proposal to reinforce the environmental aspect of earth science drew widespread support from the participants (Carpenter. the carbon cycle.4 Earth system science In the first international conference on earth science education. Mayer. in their local environment. The title of the second international conference on earth science education. which is called science. They could develop better tools to judge and evaluate the changes taking place in their environment. was: “Learning about the earth as a system” (IGEO.

About a decade after introducing of the earth systems approach into the earth sciences education community. this model suggests that science studies should start from the concrete world and utilize physics and chemistry as tools for understanding science at a deeper and more abstract level. and thus must act in harmony with its laws of cycling. Understanding that people are a part of nature. we develop most of our Earth science programs within a systems framework. It is important to note that. it is possible to break down the broad subject of environmental insight into a set of more focused research problems whose purposes are: 1.g. 3. biosphere. To determine the levels of knowledge of school students on the subject of environment.biosphere). The cyclic aspect of the model emphasizes the understanding that society is a part of the Earth's natural system and thus any manipulation in one part of this complex system might adversely affect people. which is profoundly effected by technology. In order to develop environmental literacy. The connection between man-made materials and the natural systems of the earth closes this cyclic model. which includes the following two principles: We live in a cycling world that is built upon a series of sub-systems (geosphere. Instead. 2. hydrosphere. this model does not utilize physics or chemistry as the basis of the curricular sequence. The development of such new environmental-based science curricula includes the definition of educational goals and objectives. To explore the “deep time” concept in relation to the development of environmental insight. This connection symbolizes environmental quality. The Carbon Cycle.. The Rock Cycle. Thus. as well to identify misconceptions concerning the Earth's geo-bio-chemical cycles. The Water Cycle. in opposition to the current models for teaching science. and atmosphere) which interact through an exchange of energy and materials. e. To test student understanding of the concepts of cycles and systems. Vic Mayer extended this idea further with the introduction 18 . The main educational goal is the development of environmental insight.

Its education and outreach components are as essential as its primary investigations 19 . and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) together with a number of prestigious research universities have combined resources to advance knowledge about North America’s “three-dimensional structure. 1-2) EarthScope organizers fully expect to impact school and museum science in substantial ways. His approach expands on the argument for a new type of science curriculum for secondary schools. The National Science Foundation (NSF). through time. the United States Geological Society (USGS). do scientists practice holistic science? Yes. as are almost all current science curricula. but also extends learning earth sciences into environmental domains and the context of social and political debate.” (EarthScope project plan 200xxx pp. The Earth System approach indeed embodies holism in curriculum design.of Global Science Literacy (GSL. Instead of being based on each of the major disciplines. Mayer. seismology. EarthScope is the preeminent example of “holistic” work in earth and space science. Cutting-edge land. earth and space science program of research: EarthScope.and space-based technologies will make it possible for the first time to resolve Earth structure and measure deformation in real-time at continental scales. Mayer argues that curricula should be conceptually organized around the “Earth System. By integrating scientific information derived from geology. timedependent picture of the continent beyond that which any single discipline can achieve. both as an example of integrated science and a resource for real world data. and capitalize on the crosscultural characteristics of science to establish greater understanding of the contributions of all cultures. These measurements will permit us to relate processes in Earth’s interior to their surface expressions. including faults and volcanoes. 2002. 2003). However. holism exists as a basic goal of research within the earth and space sciences community as the following example most notably illustrates The year 2003 witnessed in the United States the inauguration of an unprecedented multi-disciplinary. EarthScope will yield a comprehensive. geodesy.” including the science methodology of the system sciences. and remote sensing. and changes in that structure. Holism not only embraces the Earth System concept. 1997.

concern for complex systems. dependence upon spatial visualization. it is well accepted among earth science educators that the overall purpose of earth science education for ages 5-19 is to educate for citizenship rather than.1. and Canada (Stow and McCall. the USA. This goal will be achieved only if the very high educational potential of the earth sciences becomes realized in schools. IGEO.1 The main characteristics of the earth science education in schools Earth science education worldwide has undergone a process of revival during the past decade. 2000. dedication to solving problems at large and across many scales in time and space. and engineering. attitudes. Australia. and convergence upon environmental study 2. IGEO. at the beginning of the 21st century. disciplinary agendas. to convergence upon themes essential to environmental science and education. 1996.because among its fundamental goals is achieving understandings of volcanoes and earthquakes needed to promote public safety. from less reductionism to more holism. and continuing through several other distinctive features of these fields: responsiveness to the importance of historical explanation. The aim is to maximize personal development and to increase the cognitive and ethical understanding of all citizens with respect to the workings of the global environment and the exploration for and the exploitation of resources. 2003). 2. and methodologies that relate to 20 . beginning with their potential to illustrate scientific thinking. to integrated research with outcomes of interest to the public. Since 1993 four international conferences on geoscience education have been conducted in Europe. IGEO. or as well as. from direct instruction based upon text materials to constructivist pedagogy with access to real world data. to prepare students to become professional geoscientists. 1997. Now.1 Scientific thinking The earth sciences encourage learners to be scientific detectives through the development of intellectual and practical skills. The profile of learning earth sciences continues to shift as does the practice of earth and space science: from isolated. from separate concern for earth history and systems. Learning earth sciences 2. commerce.

This large time range. geologists have developed a distinctive way of thinking that involves retrospection. and falsification. Geological inquiry applies knowledge of present day processes in order to draw conclusions about the rocks of the Earth's past.1. This understanding is actually what science all about.problem solving. 1996). there is a worldwide recognition that living in peace with our environment is more than just a slogan. in a conceptual framework that ranges from local to global and involves the depths of time and the vastness of space. 2. It gives the students—our future citizens—the knowledge and the ability to think about the importance and interrelationships of the lithosphere. It is also agreed that the understanding of each of the earth’s sub-systems and the environment as a whole is indispensable in order to live in peace with the environment.2 The dimensions of time and space The earth sciences use and develop concepts common to the traditional sciences. interpreting and the communicating of findings. and the huge spatial domains above and under the Earth's surface are the objects of study: inner space. the making of relevant observations. induction. near space and even outer space are involved (when comparisons with other solar and planetary systems are being considered). This particular contribution of retrospection to the students' cognitive abilities together with the development of spatial visualization skills to an extant that is rare in other science disciplines is almost unique to learning earth sciences (Kali and Orion. and some which are uniquely their own. the design of investigations. processes and environments of past times. atmosphere and 21 . the creation of multiple working hypotheses. Learning earth sciences has a major part to play in the environmental education of society. inferring. To unravel processes that took place millions of years ago. more then ever. Among these attributes of scientific thinking are: the role of conjecture.3 Environmental orientation Today. These conclusions clarify the picture of the materials. the development of a variety of recording skills: predicting. it is an existential need. 2. deduction. testing of ideas. measured in millions and billions of years.1.

This approach prioritizes the interrelation between energy and environment Human society. form an interdisciplinary approach to problems (recall the example of EarthScope above). cryosphere (ice). however they differ in their perspectives.1. One school is more concerned with the understanding of the physical environment and studies primarily the five interacting Earth's subsystems or spheres: atmosphere.4 The interdisciplinary nature of the earth sciences The earth sciences. They also have close relationships with biological topics such as evolution. 2. ecology and the links between rocks. water. Both approaches examine the interrelationships between people and the physical environment. the earth sciences demonstrate the practical uses of physics and chemistry in our daily life. learning earth sciences may deepen students’ awareness of the physical surroundings of their homeland and enable them to participate in an informed way in contentious matters such as exploitation versus conservation. On the other hand. 1995). The other school is more concerned with the environmental hazards from the perspective of their impacts on humanity. The concept of the “Earth System” provides a conceptual model for curriculum developers to use in promoting integrated science programs (Mayer. There are two main schools of environmental studies. technological revolution and energy exploitation have dramatically degraded the capacities of many ecosystems. Therefore the Earth 22 . in this approach. Most importantly.hydrosphere as well as subjects such as the utilization and conservation of energy. soil. The majority of research efforts of all the science disciplines relate to Planet Earth. by their very nature. Therefore. biosphere. On the one hand. is an integral part of the systems of the earth. hydrosphere and lithosphere. Technology has a dual role in the interaction between society and environment. flora. and material resources. new technologies can help in limiting environmental hazards and in providing alternative energy resources. both present and the past. Physical and chemical processes and principles and biological processes and environmental understanding are needed to explain geological phenomena. and fauna.

On one hand the earth sciences deal with very concrete phenomena that one can learn through direct interaction in the lab and/or the field. and age from the kindergarten to the high school.1. 4. and dynamic information. (2000) in her study of students’ models of plate tectonics and the interior of the earth.1. 1993. causal. the laboratory.7 The relevance of earth sciences to our daily life Generally. achievement. demonstrated that the plate tectonics model placed high demands upon abstract thinking. 3. The time scale of geological processes is beyond the perception of the human mind.” topics from the earth sciences can be presented appropriately to students of all levels of ability. 1994). Gobert.5 From the kindergarten to the high-school By classifying the learning concepts from the “concrete to the abstract. 2. the museum and the industrial site. is a very powerful 23 . She pointed out four challenging demands of this abstract thinking: 1. namely spatial. there is widespread agreement among educators that teaching science in relation to an individual’s daily life. Former teaching strategies.” have given way to student investigative work of a wide and varied kind.System approach is perhaps the best and most appropriate focus for such integrated science courses. and to the local environment. Orion & Hofstein.6 Variety of learning environments in the teaching-learning process Teaching earth sciences allows the integration of formal teaching into several learning environments: the classroom. Comprehension requires the integration of several different types of information. The interior of the earth and the processes that take place there are outside of direct experience. which were essentially “lectures on the subject. the field. 2. 2. The size scale of plate tectonic processes are difficult for the human mind to grasp. These latter strategies make facts and processes part of tangible experience and introduce students to field research methodology (Orion. However.1. at the other end of the concrete-abstract continuum there are very abstract phenomena and high order skills that are involved in the understanding of many earth sciences concepts. 2.

the preservation of wetlands or tropical forests. A synthesis of these traditions ends the section on cognitive aspects of learning earth sciences. studies of spatial visualization. and.) and the care of the local. 1997. the rock cycle. Although there are relatively few published studies of students’ alternative frameworks in earth sciences education. etc. Understandings learned from the earth sciences directly apply to many important aspects of life: for example. earthquakes. 1989. rising sea levels. the greenhouse effect. This area includes subjects such as plate tectonics. 1994xxx. We have grouped studies of cognitive learning in earth sciences as examples of alternative frameworks research. Marques and Thompson. sea defenses. volcanic eruptions. and global environment (e. Studies of students’ perceptions of processes and mechanisms of geospheric change. The most predominant research produced during the constructivist era no doubt has been the extensive studies of misconceptions. Ross and Shuell. nuclear. alternative frameworks of students in relation to all aspects of the science curricula.). construction materials etc. and investigations of systems thinking.2. 2.1 Alternative frameworks of learners concerning earth sciences concepts The constructivist paradigm has dominated the field of science education during the last two decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. preconceptions.). these studies inform those whose aims are to fulfill the educational potential of learning earth sciences as part of science for all. the control of energy resources (fossil fuels. 1994. for an earlier review of this literature and related studies of “expert and novice” styles of solving earth science problems). oil.2. solar etc. etc. (Ault. 1985.g. naive ideas. the ozone layer. Collectively. tidal. The following section describes several traditions of research about learning earth sciences. 1984. 1993. examination of temporal thinking. landslides. coal. the study of natural disasters (earthquakes. there have emerged some generalized findings and patterns (see Ault. At least four independent studies have explored each of the following four areas of learning earth sciences: 1. Happs. regional.). in more general terms. etc..teaching strategy. Xxx add NSES standard citation here as well 2. The cognitive aspects of learning earth sciences. hurricanes. gas. 1994. Lillo. Bezzi and Happs. the mining of raw materials (potable water. erosion. 24 . Schoon.

2. 1999. 1998. 1998. Oversby. Kali. Marques and Thompson. Dodick and Orion. Students overestimate the effect of external forces of the earth observed directly at its surface and fail to appreciate the importance of the internal forces shaping structures. Orion and Elon. 1992. Agelidou. Finally. Noonan-Pulling and Good. 2003. 2000. Dove. 1997. 2003a. 1999. Taiwo. Stein. Review of the above studies indicates that children. Nottis and Ketter. 2004). 1997. Anderson. 25 . Beilfuss. Dickerson. 1998. 2000. These studies cover K-12 students’. and ages. 2000. Fetherstonhaugh and Bezzi. 2001. 2004. 1994. 1996. Marques and Thompson. They struggle with their perceptions of geological time and spatial phenomena. 2003. Dickerson. Studies of students’ and teachers’ perceptions of hydrospheric processes and the water cycle (Meyer. For example. Barker 1998. Trend. Ben-zvi-Assaraf and Orion. Some of these frameworks are no doubt preconceptions that emerge as students encounter difficult abstractions about the earth in conflict with the scale of their everyday perceptions. Lilio. 3. Dove. Schoon. cultures. Dahl and Kurdziel. Motswiri and Masene. 1999. A detailed analysis of the literature concerning the hydrosphere appears later in section 2. Marques. Beilfuss. Libarkin. and adults hold alternative frameworks in relation to almost every topic in the earth sciences. and Bain. 2004). Stofflett. Brody. 1987. Boone. Gobert. 1982. 1988. Ray. 1997. Stein. 1997. 1994. Studies of students’ understanding and conceptions of the Earth’s interior (DeLaughter. Studies of students’ and teachers’ perceptions of geological deep time (Happs. static views of the geosphere and groundwater are common—dynamic insights are less common. Gobert and Clement. Libarkin and Boone. 2004).Gobert and Clement. undergraduates. King. adolescents. Balafoutas and Gialamas. they often misconceive the interior of the earth and the state of matter within the interior of the earth. 2003b) 4. Libarkin and Boone. 1998. These alternative frameworks are seen across nations. 1999. 1994. 1989. and practicing teachers.4.

axes of synclinal folds. These representations place demand upon spatial reasoning as well. such preconceptions are predictable. The phenomena of interest have spatial extent on many scales. from topography to pressure gradients. Sadly. the literature suggests that many teachers hold the same alternative frameworks as their students and that even text materials foster misconceptions. Research studies about earth science education have the potential to break this non-productive cycle. convergence on environmental studies). integration of subjects. gyres in ocean circulation. Thus. 26 .2. Earth Systems approach. but exist on grand scales: spiral structures of galaxies. Sometimes. the geometries change with time. however. There are contour maps of a host of phenomena to master.As previously explained. 2.2 Spatial visualization Teaching and learning earth sciences at all levels relies upon spatial reasoning of many kinds. These studies indicate that schooling all over the world has influenced only in a limited way the ability of students to construct scientifically sound conceptions of the earth. review of these studies holds another striking conclusion: the same preconceptions appear across grade levels. visualization requires skill at projecting structures from three dimensions onto two. Sometimes their geometries are simple. In addition to the phenomena of interest and their challenging geometries.. Sometimes the geometries are confusing: the intersection of complex topography with complicated stratigraphy. Maps are two dimensional representations yet often include data about three dimensional structures. from kindergarten to college. for example. Sometimes the surfaces of interest are mapped indirectly: gravitational anomalies and magnetic fields.g. but only if they are integrated with curriculum design and implementation and in keeping with the changing profile of the earth sciences (e. there are the representations used by earth scientists to record and study them. Seeing “through the surface” to visualize three dimensional structure is indeed challenging. from glacial thickness to stress fields. it seems that earth science education in many countries is trapped in a cycle of ineffective instruction and inadequate learning—with preconceptions and misconceptions dominating learning earth sciences. congruent rather than in conflict with knowledge from the earth sciences. And most confusingly. Geologic maps contour time.

(1997). 2000). They can also be readily represented by block models and more sophisticated renderings in a virtual setting. and modified to reflect temporal changes. visual pattern is the key to unlocking temporal puzzles. In geology. Ben-Chaim and Kali. inspected. be quite distinct from the spatial abilities commonly associated with tasks in learning chemistry (Dori and Barak. The spatial objects that are studied in the geological sciences are usually large enough to walk in physically (the field learning environment). these blocks are not only visualized. Kali and Orion (1996) characterized the specific spatial abilities required for the study of basic structural geology. 2001.g. While the basic dependence of geoscientists on spatial abilities has long been recognized (Chadwick. Linn and Bell. and in learning engineering (Hsi. in learning physics (Pallrand and Seeber. 2003b). In the earth sciences. Other evidence presented below suggests a strong link between key spatial abilities as students learn to investigate field problems at more advanced levels in geology. in which students were required to draw two-dimensional cross-sections of geological structures that were represented as block-diagrams. in fact. 1978). There is also evidence showing that the outdoor field learning environment specifically enhances the ability to connect static objects in the field (e. HallWallace. To do this they developed a geologic spatial ability test (GeoSAT). Riggs and Tretinjak. 1987). Piburn. Spatial visualization is 27 . 2003). but rotated. Reynolds and Leedy. 1997). These spatial reasoning abilities may. the geoscience education community has only begun to explore the vast array of spatial abilities which students must bring to bear in order to understand essential geoscience concepts at all educational levels (McAuliffe. Pribyl and Bodner. 1984). The development of an understanding of deep geologic time by students has also been shown to be related to aspects of spatial cognition (Dodick and Orion.Consider also that visual patterns among sedimentary rocks record in three dimensions events through time. layers of sedimentary rocks) into a coherent narrative which contains an understanding of change through time at that given location (Orion. Their outcomes indicate that the problem-solving involved in GeoSAT require a special type of spatial visualization which they named VPA (Visual Penetration Ability). 2003a.

such as visualization of topography from contour maps. The experiment also was very effective at improving scores and lowering times to completion on the spatial visualization test. Spatial Visualization. Very powerful gender effects have also been demonstrated. the manipulations involved in VPA are to visually penetrate into a three dimensional mental image in order to envision two dimensional cross-sections. The advantage of technology in improving learners’ capability to solve problems that require spatial skills has also been shown by Hsi. 28 . & Tewksbury) successfully investigated the role of spatial visualization in an introductory geology course. This project developed web-based versions of three standard visualization tests (Cube Rotation. In contrast. students significantly improved their ability to solve the problems involved in GeoSAT. and (2) Interactive 3D Geologic Blocks. Using four case-studies. the effectiveness of the treatment experienced by the experimental group was confirmed using Analysis of Variance and a comparison of normalized gain scores. and the control group did not. The manipulations usually referred to are mental rotation and mental translation. Linn & Bell (1997) in the area of engineering. The NSF-funded Hidden Earth Project (Reynolds. containing items of the more visual aspects of geology. Kali and Orion developed Geo3D. these authors also indicated a relatively short time-span in which students acquired their spatial skills using the computer-based tools involved. they showed that even with a short-term interaction with the software. Although all subjects profited from both the control and the experimental conditions. and Hidden Figures) and a geospatial test. An experimental group used these modules.defined as the ability to create a mental image from a “pictorially presented object” and to operate different mental manipulations on those images. Reynolds and others developed innovative instructional modules for (1) Visualizing Topography. Based on their findings about VPA. Interestingly. 1997). with the experiment equalizing the performance of males and females in a case where the performance of males was initially superior to that of females. a software package designed to assist high-school students in developing their VPA and in acquiring the skills needed for understanding basic structural geology (Kali & Orion. Piburn.

Birk. The same can be said of well-constructed classroom computer-based interventions such as the materials in Geo3D (Kali & Orion.3 Temporal thinking In the history of geology there have been two discoveries. Riggs & Semken. and misconceptions about visualizing topography from contour maps. & Johnson. These interviews exposed several previously unrecognized misconceptions about topographic maps. 2002). It stands to reason that there is probably some robust connection between place-based Indigenous cultures and field-based learning via spatial abilities. and Clark (2004) conducted a detailed investigation of college student’s pre-instructional knowledge. two dimensional representation of threedimensional objects so frequently used as test items in traditional spatial abilities tests. which have literally defined the way geologists view the earth. Reynolds. and selected students were interviewed to assess what their initial skills and strategies were.2. When one considers spatial cognition in a geoscientific problem solving context. one can no longer only consider the static. 2001). McAuliffe. Piburn. Field investigations and simulated field work all involve problem solving when properly constructed using an inquiry-based structure. Geological time means the understanding (aptly termed by John McPhee in 1980 as 29 . Piburn. Clearly. skills. and the incorporation of new information continually shapes the investigations as work on the problem progresses. but must also begin to examine the temporal evolution of student understanding as they explore a real 3D object and extract a temporal history from these spatially extended geologic features. 2. 1997) and Hidden Earth (Reynolds. Studies in geoscience education for Native American students show that students from certain cultural backgrounds more readily learn geoscience in a field setting than do others (Riggs.As part of the Hidden Earth Curriculum Project. 2003. plate tectonics and geological time. Students completed pre-tests and post-tests. Leedy. and a Topographic Visualization Instrument was developed to see how prevalent these misconceptions were in a broader sample of students. experience plays an essential role in developing spatial reasoning ability.

or relatively using picture-sorting tasks. A survey of the science education literature indicates that there has never been a large-scale quantitative study of older student’s (junior high to senior high) understanding of geological time. time beginning with the formation of the earth or the universe). there have been several large-scale studies of how students understand this concept. p. and evolutionary biology (Dodick and Orion. and that humanity’s earthly dominion is confined to the last milliseconds of the metaphorical geological clock. and Trends’ studies on the conception of geological time amongst 10-11-yearold children (Trend. the studies that have been completed on how students understand geological time can be roughly divided into two groups: “event-based studies” and “logic-based studies. any scientist or student that wants to master any of these subjects must have a good understanding of geological time. In general. along a time-line. Such studies largely reflect the subjects’ knowledge of particular events and most of them involved qualitative research (structured interviews) with small sample groups. 2001a). a similar study by Marques and Thompson (1997) with Portuguese students. scale or models develop over time. 30 . However. the subject is asked to justify their reasons for their proposed temporal order. In such studies. Such studies include: Noonan-Pulling and Good’s (1999) research on the understanding of the origins of earth and life amongst junior high students. cosmology. after reviewing the science education research literature. The influence of geological time is felt in a variety of scientific disciplines including geology. Roseman (1992. Thus. 218) noted that there “was next to nothing about…how kids’ understanding of notions of systems.” Event-based studies include all research that surveys student understanding of the vast duration of “deep time” (that is. 2001b). Often in such sequencing tasks. as well as amongst primary teacher trainees (Trend 2000. 2003c).” Since that time. the general task is sequencing a series of events (for example the first appearance of life on earth) absolutely. 17-year-old students (Trend.“deep time”) that the universe has existed for countless millennia. 1998). 1997.

such as superposition and correlation. in the field. a young child’s understanding of time is tightly bound to his or her concept of motion. According to Piaget. Based on Zwart’s (1976) suggestion that the development of people’s temporal understanding lies in the before and after relationship. Children believed rock layers in the field to be old based upon being dark or crumbly—not based upon their position in a series of strata. Based on his findings. Nonetheless. the geological science builds its knowledge of time through visual interpretation of static entities (formations.In logic-based studies. these same children had difficulties in solving similar types of problems. This approach is seen in the work of Ault (1981. In contrast. of geological time. Indeed. many of the children in his test group were successful at solving puzzles involving skills necessary to an understanding of the logic. Frodeman. fossils. Ault (1981) theorized that children organize geological time relationally. It might be added that such studies are more concerned with probing the subject’s logical processes rather than their knowledge of earth science. the research problems he used were taken from physics. Indeed there is no reason to suggest that an understanding of the (logical) relationships amongst strata should necessarily allow one to both conceptualize and internalize the entirety of geological time. Ault (1981. four. thus. which was influenced by Piaget’s (1969) work on time cognition. the researcher is interested on the cognitive processes undergone by students when confronted with problems of geologic time. 2003b) Ault interviewed a group of forty students from grades kindergarten. 1982) claimed that young (grade 2-6) children’s concept of conventional time in a logical sense (reasoning about before and after) was no impediment towards their understanding of geologic events. indicating that there was little transfer from classroom problems to authentic geological settings. 1995. though not the extent. However. and six using a series of puzzles which tested how they understood (and could reconstruct) a series of geological strata. 1982) and Dodick and Orion (2003a. two. These difficulties can be traced to Ault’s (1981) research design. it is possible that the two forms of understanding can be studied as separate entities. 31 . 1996).

An (active) logical understanding of geological time used to reconstruct past environments and organisms based on a series of scientific principles. This is similar to the work done in logic based studies. In this study.e. Temporal Organization: This scheme defines the sequential order of stages in a transformational process. geo-logic is comparable to Montagnero’s (1992. three have been translated to the logical skills needed to solve temporal problems involving geological strata: 1. in structure. principles based on the three dimensional relationship amongst strata (ex: superposition) are used in determining temporal organization. reliable quantitative tools. 2003b) conducted a large-scale study with junior high and high school students. In geology it is understood through the principle of actualism (i. In geology. A (passive) temporal framework in which large scale geological events occur. which are activated when one attempts to reconstruct transformational sequences. such thinking is activated. 32 . In this study. when a child attempts to reconstruct the growth (and decay) cycle of a tree. geological time was divided into two different concepts: 1. however. an understanding of geological time should be mitigated by a person’s knowledge of such events. In the cognitive literature this is comparable to Friedman’s (1982) associative networks. Such understanding depends upon building connections between events and time. Montagenro (1996) argues that there are four schemes. By this reasoning. Transformation: This scheme defines a principle of change. whether qualitative or quantitative. noted above. a system of temporal processing used for storing information on points in time. it might seem that students unfamiliar with geology might be unable to reconstruct a depositional system. Based on this definition. 2. 2. for example.” He defines “diachronic thinking” as the capacity to represent transformations over time.Dodick and Orion (2003a. 1996) model of “diachronic thinking. which included validated. “the present as key to the past”).

This suggests that somewhere between grades 7-8 it should be possible to start teaching some of the 33 . two other questionnaires were distributed to sub-units of this population to answer questions that arose through the use of the GeoTAT: (a) a TimeSpatial Test (or TST). In geology such stages are reconstructed via the combination of actualism and causal reasoning.e. 3. Amongst students who were not taking geology as part of their school program it was seen that there was a significant difference between samples composed of high school and 9th grade students (on the one hand) and 7th grade students (on the other) in their ability to understand geological phenomena using diachronic thinking. For the purposes of this research. In addition.3. The transformation scheme which influences the other two diachronic schemes. qualitative research was pursued in the classroom and field by studying and interviewing students who were studying geology and paleontology as part of their matriculation studies. Montagenro designed a specialized (validated) instrument. As a result of this study it was possible to construct a model of temporal thinking with the key features that influence a subject’s ability to reconstruct geological features in time (or “reconstructive” thinking as we term it): 1. (b) a Stratigraphic Factors Test (SFT) which tested the influence of (geological strata) dimensions on students’ temporal understanding. dimensional change). In addition. which tested the possibility that spatial thinking influences temporal thinking. Knowledge. 2. the GeoTAT which consisted of a series of open puzzles which tested the subject’s understanding of diachronic schemes as applied to geological settings. Extra-cognitive factors such as spatial-visual ability which influence how a subject temporally organizes 3-dimensional structures such as geological strata. most importantly empirical knowledge (such as the relationship between environment and rock type) and organizational knowledge (i. Interstage Linkage: The connections between the successive stages of transformational phenomena.

and includes within its parameters problems related to geological time (Happs. 1996. Marques. one might note those works which have focused on the 34 . Oversby. with the key factor in this improvement (probably) being exposure to fieldwork.” This relationship was especially strengthened by the second year of geological study (grade 12). specifically the understanding of environmental change through time as read from the sedimentary rock record. but only after completing the fieldwork unit were they able to understand these rocks as a dynamic temporal/historical record. These include complex superposition (consisting of tilted strata). The work of Riggs and Tretinjak (2003) supports this finding. Prior to the field trip students could identify past environments from sedimentary rock. this research shows that the ability to think diachronically can be improved if practiced in the context of learning earth sciences. nor do we fully understand the reasons for this correlation amongst temporal/spatial/and field abilities.logical principles permitting one to reconstruct geological structures. as well the integrated use of all the diachronic schemes to solve complex problems of deposition. This is consistent with the findings of Dodick and Orion (2003a. Moreover. Riggs and Tretinjak studied a non-majors course in earth science for pre-service elementary school teachers. There currently is no comparable data of this nature for geoscience majors. which in turn implies that well-designed geologic field work will enhance both. 1982. one might add the small body of research which catalogues general misconceptions in geology. 1989). 2003b) who found a correlation between the understanding of geologic time and spatial ability. and correlation (two outcrop problems) which rely on the use of isolated diachronic schemes. Fieldwork both improved students’ ability to understand the 3-dimensional factors influencing temporal organization and provided them with experience in learning about the types of evidence that are critical in reconstructing a transformational sequence. Finally. 1988. even for non-majors. They were able to shows that integrated field investigations enhance higherorder content knowledge in geoscience. In addition to the studies mentioned above. A comparison of high school (grade 11-12) geology and non-geology majors indicated that the former group held a significant advantage over the later in solving problems involving “diachronic thinking. Schoon.

g. analyzing environmental problems such as groundwater pollution involves questions such as: What was the cause of the groundwater pollution? What will be the outcome of the pollutants in the groundwater system? How could humans be affected? How long will those chemicals stay within the rocks? The ability to deal with such questions requires backwards (retrospection) and forwards (prediction) thinking skills. 1991. 2000). 1993). the atmosphere and the biosphere (including humanity).2. is fundamental to environmental literacy. 1998). Moreover. 1983. 1992. for example: in the social sciences. 1997). Faughnan & Elson. 2..g. Ritger and Cummins. (e. the geosphere. Lewis...g. so they are of untested value to the pedagogic literature. students should understand that any manipulation in one part of this complex system might cause effects in another part.. Graczyk. in project management (e. Senge.g. 1996. SpencerCervato and Day. Therefore.4 Systems-thinking Current earth science education is characterized by a shift towards a systems approach to teaching and curriculum development (Mayer. in decision making (e. Emery. researchers in many fields have studied systems-thinking extensively. technological and everyday domains. sometimes in ways quite unexpected. 35 . 1992). for example.. 1978. The understanding of physical systems such as the earth is also based on the ability to expand the systems’ borders and expose hidden dimensions and interactions. Mayer (2002) emphasizes that the development of systems-thinking about the different earth systems. these teaching models have never been critically evaluated.e. in psychology (e. Unfortunately. 2002). Rowland. Systems-thinking is regarded as a type of higher order thinking required in scientific. Orion (1998. the hydrosphere.. Metzger. in medicine (e. Earth science educators call for reexamining the teaching and learning of traditional earth science in the context of the many environmental and social issues facing the planet (IGEO. Viewing the expanded system of the earth reveals how groundwater and the atmosphere interact with the geosphere. Hume. i. 2002) claimed that since the natural environment is a system of interacting natural subsystems.practical elements of teaching the scale of time (Everitt. Good and Pankiewicz. 1998).g.

Coral atolls.g. The first stage includes an acquaintance with the different Earth systems. Ossimitz. coral atoll. the curriculum in this study provided a means of stimulating students to explore the carbon cycle system. 3. Gudovitch and Orion (2001) studied systems thinking in high school students and developed a system-oriented curriculum in the context of the carbon cycle. and river basins are often explained as developing through stages over time. Gudovitch (1997) examined students’ prior knowledge and perceptions concerning global environmental problems in general and the role of people among natural systems in particular. However.g. Stages stand for periods of time. 2. 1988). The third stage includes an understanding of the reciprocal relationships between the systems. or 36 . and in mathematics (e. in engineering (e. Examples of a volcano. Ault (1998) referred to drawing conclusions about past events as “retrodiction” (a term drawn from Kitts.1998). hence retrodiction and stageinference go hand in hand. The second stage includes an understanding of specific processes causing this material transformation. Gudovitch found that students’ progress with systems-thinking consisted of four stages: 1. Orion and Elon (2003) studied the effect of a knowledge integration activity on junior high school students’ systems thinking. The fourth stage includes a perception of the system as a whole. characterizing students’ conceptions of the rock cycle as an example of systems-thinking. Ben-zvi-Assaraf and Orion (2004) explored the development of system thinking skills at the junior high school level in the context of the hydro (water) cycle. and an awareness of the material transformation between these systems. 4. 19xxx) as opposed to prediction. During the late 90's and the beginning of this decade three studies were conducted in the Weizmann Institute of Science in relation to system thinking as part of the field of learning earth sciences. little is known about systems-thinking in the context of science education. The challenge is “to hypothesize an arrangement by stages for what is observed” (p. Fordyce. 196).. arc volcanoes. Kali. 2000). Often retrodictions follow from observations of phenomena in present time presumed to sample what has happened through time. Importantly.

The rock cycle can be viewed as a closed system. They studied 7th grade students who participated in learning a 40-hour unit. Orion and Elon (2003) claimed that understanding the rock cycle is exactly such a challenge and that such a challenge requires systems–thinking. and vice versa. metamorphism. rather than a set of facts about the earth’s crust. reported that while answering an open-ended questionnaire. more dynamic understanding upon making connections between parts of the system. At the opposite end of the continuum there were the students who thought dynamically 37 . one example is another’s future. in which one side represents a static view. students expressed a systems-thinking continuum. uplift and erosion). ranging from a completely static view of the system. sedimentation. The main challenge was to assist students in understanding the rock cycle as a system. Students thinking in terms of this model express a lack of connectedness between parts of the system. Orion and Eylon (2003).. and the opposite side represents a highly dynamic view of the system.river basin at any stage of development exist in the present. On top of this continuum they superimposed a dimension of interconnectedness. to an understanding of the system’s cyclic nature. Hence. place substitutes for time in order to make retrodictions. The rocks exposed on the surface of the earth are only a small sample in time and space of constant material transformation within the crust. indicate poor dynamic thinking. The rock cycle is a system including the crust of the earth and is characterized by a cyclic and dynamic nature. In the case of the rock cycle. At the low end of this continuum they located students who presented a Product Isolation Model. it can also be viewed as a system maintaining a dynamic equilibrium. they based higher. melting. since the size of the reservoirs of this system was almost constant over this time scale. burial. driven by geological processes (e.g. weathering. The degree of connectedness can therefore provide as means for determining the degree of dynamics. Kali. This combined continuum served as a basis for constructing a rock cycle systems-thinking continuum. since hardly any material was added or removed from this system in the time involved in students’ observations. Kali. They suggested placing dynamic thinking (which is a critical aspect of systems-thinking) on a continuum. Additionally. and represent a completely static view of the rock cycle system. and crystallization of molten rocks.

Such understanding was considered as the highest level of systems-thinking in the context of the rock cycle. It was found that knowledge 38 . We suggest that only at this level were students able to meaningfully understand the cyclic nature of the system. except for one link (burial and melting of rocks). the internal and the external systems). students were able to acquire systems-thinking in the context of the rock cycle. or naive theories. With such a view students were able to grasp the holistic idea that any material in a system can be a product of any other material and apply this insight to novel situations. The most sophisticated alternative incorrect model concerning material transformation within the rock cycle was the Model Lacking Burial & Melting Processes. because they refer to the rock cycle as consisting of two different sub-systems (i. about the earth’s crust.e. It is important to note that students’ alternative incorrect models of the rock cycle described above were not interpreted as misconceptions. This study also indicated that with appropriate teaching. The progression within this continuum is considered a result of adding connections between pieces of knowledge. Therefore. Though viewing parts of the rock cycle as disconnected. they were placed higher than Disconnected Internal-External explanations. this thinking did allow for larger chunks of material transformation within these sub-systems. just below the highest level of the systemsthinking continuum. Disconnected Internal-External explanations were placed higher on the continuum. placing these models on a continuum reflects the view that such models can serve as basis for developing more sophisticated models. until the highest level of understanding the cyclic nature of the system is reached. Rather. in which students viewed all the material transformation within the rock cycle. Between these two extremes were students that indicated different degrees of systems-thinking. leading to higher levels of integrated knowledge.. Students explanations classified under the category of Process-Product Isolation Model reflect a view with dynamics limited to very small chunks of material transformation within the rock cycle (between specific processes and their particular products).about material transformation within the rock cycle and therefore demonstrated a rich understanding of the interconnectedness between parts of the system.

and rainfall) and ignored the groundwater. Students became more aware of the dynamic and cyclic nature of the rock cycle. Thus. was found here as well. A gradual knowledge building stage in which each of the system’s components is studied in an inquiry process and gradually integrated into a holistic depiction of the system. The success of the knowledge integration activity stresses the importance of post-knowledge-acquisition activities. the fact that. Ben-zvi-Assaraf and Orion (2004) used a large battery of qualitative and quantitative research tools in order to explore the development of system thinking skills of junior high school students who studied the hydro cycle through learning with the "Blue Planet" Program.” which was reported by Kali. and their ability to construct sequences of processes representing material transformation in relatively large chunks significantly improved. They even struggled to identify basic system components. A differentiation and re-integration concluding stage. they lacked the dynamic and cyclic perceptions of the system and the ability to create a meaningful relationship among the system components. The pre-test findings indicated that most of the students sampled experienced substantial difficulties in all of aspects of systems-thinking. At this stage they were only acquainted with the atmospheric component of the cycle (i. but 39 .integration activities led to a meaningful improvement in students’ views of the rock cycle. The phenomenon of disconnected “islands of knowledge. towards the higher side of the systems-thinking continuum. regarding students’ abilities to connect a set of geological phenomena to a coherent rock cycle. Moreover. biospheric. which includes the dual process discussed above. condensation. Some of them demonstrated an ability to create a relationship between several components.e. 2. and environmental components. The findings also indicated that the systems-based curricula design should include two stages: 1. Orion and Eylon (2003). They entered the 8th grade holding an incomplete and naive perception of the water cycle. evaporation. is encouraging. which engage students in a dual process of differentiation of their knowledge and re-integration in a systems context. Most of the students were not able to link the various components of the water cycle together into a coherent network.

Some of the students who were actively involved in the learning process. and for others the barrier was the ability to make generalizations. Since almost any population is cognitively heterogeneous one might expect a differential cognitive development as was found by the current study. A meaningful improvement was also noticed in relation to the students’ ability to identify hidden parts of a system. who initially presented only the atmospheric component of the hydro cycle. The triangulation of all the research tools indicates that only those students who actively participated in the indoor and outdoor activities and submitted all the knowledge integration assignments throughout the learning process reached the higher ability levels of identifying a network of coherent relationships and hidden components of the system. the cognitive barrier was the ability to perceive the dynamic relationship among the system’s components. this wide acquaintance with the systems’ components yielded an improvement in their ability to identify relationships among components within the system. For about half of the students. Most of the students improved their dynamic perception of the system and about one-third of them reached the higher level of cyclic perception. could only identify relationships between one or two components and could not perceive the overall cyclic nature of the system. It is important to emphasize that not all the students who were actively involved within the learning process reached those higher levels. The finding that the common factor for all those students who crossed all the cognitive barriers was their high 40 . For some. the posttest findings indicated that most of the students shifted from a fragmented perception of the water cycle toward a more holistic view. for others the ability to organize components within a network of relationships.even those students were not able at this stage to draw a complete network of relationships. significantly increased their acquaintance with the components and processes of the water cycle. About 70% of the students. In light of the initial knowledge and cognitive abilities of the students. but did not develop the dynamic cyclic perception of the system. One factor that clearly influencing this ability is cognitive difference. but all students who presented such high system thinking abilities did submit all the knowledge integration assignments.

the ability to organize components and place them within a network of relationship.” The third group includes three skills. In other words. These findings together with the findings of Kali. but also by appropriate learning strategies.involvement within the learning process might indicate that system thinking is not only influenced by the initial cognitive potential of a the students. and Elon. might also suggest that such learning should be based on inquiry-based learning both indoors and outdoors and on knowledge integration activities. system thinking is a cognitive ability that can be developed through instructional learning.” The second group includes two skills. both of which were presented by about 50% of the sample: “the ability to identify relationships between separate components” and “the ability to identify dynamic relationships between the system’s components.” The fourth group was represented by a small number of the interviewed sample population (10-30%) and includes the perception of the “hidden components of the system” and the perception of the system within “the dimension of time. which was conducted in the 41 . (2003). The findings of a hierarchical notion and the interrelationships between dynamic perception and cyclic perception which were found in the context of the hydro cycle are in accordance with study of Kali.” namely the ability to make a prediction (thinking forward) and the ability to look backwards at the history of the system (retrospection). Orion. This classification indicated that the development of system thinking in the context of the earth systems consists of several sequential stages arranged in a hierarchical pyramid structure. Orion and Eylon (2003).” and “the ability to make generalizations. The distribution of students’ achievements with regard to the different components of systems-thinking were classified into four groups of skills. which were presented by about 30-40% of the sample population: “the ability to understand the cyclic nature of systems.” Both abilities can be classified together as “the system’s analysis skill. The cognitive skills developed in each stage serve as the basis for the development of the next higher-order thinking skills. The first group represented 70% of the students and includes “the ability to identify the system’s components” and “the ability to identify the system’s processes.

context of the rock cycle. Using the outdoor learning environment for the construction of a concrete model of a natural system. Introducing the first steps of system thinking at the elementary school level. In light of the findings and conclusions of the above studies. Dodick and Orion (1993a) have found an interrelationship between temporal thinking ability and spatial thinking ability. 2. more of them might be able to reach the higher levels of system thinking during junior high school. there are connections among the several cognitive studies mentioned above that were conducted separately. Ben-Chaim and Kali. Moreover. 2. the outdoor learning environment was found to be a very effective tool for developing a concrete. it suggested that these findings might be generalized to the study of the earth systems. spatial and system thinking. 3. For example. while Orion. realistic perception of nature that served as a cognitive bridge for the development of the very abstract.5 Synthesis Surprisingly (or not). namely skills such as the ability to identify the components of a system and identifying relationships between two components. Focusing on inquiry-based learning. 1. Ben-zvi-Assaraf and Orion (1994) found that systems-thinking in relation to the earth is related to temporal thinking (retrospective thinking) and spatial perception (the ability to perceive the hidden parts of a system). high order thinking components such as temporal. Thus.2. and with Gudovitch (1997) which was conducted in the context of the carbon cycle. it is suggested that the following aspects might contribute in improving students’ abilities to develop systems-thinking. all of the above studies acknowledge the significance of alternative 42 . (1997) as well as Riggs and Tretinjak (2003) found that geological outdoor experiences might increase students’ spatial thinking abilities. 4. Here again. Using knowledge integration activities throughout all the stages of the learning process. If the students enter junior high school with adequate abilities of the lower levels of the system thinking pyramid.

What are the educational advantages of each of these learning environments in general and specifically in relation to earth science education? 2. specifically in relation to earth science education as well as in relation to science education in general? 3.3. A holistic approach to learning environments An important characteristic of earth science education (and other sciences as well) is the potential to conduct formal teaching in a variety of learning environments: the classroom. a holistic framework has begun to emerge that links the cognitive elements that should be stressed by teachers who work within an earth systems approach. 2.3.1. The holistic perspective is not only a way of viewing content. the classroom. different learning environments. it also suggests direction for research agendas for years to come.3 The integration of learning environments within the earth sciences 2. although research in the area of learning earth sciences is quite limited. Moreover. exactly the slice of reality portrayed by a geologic map. and therefore indicate the need to respond to preconceptions and misconceptions with appropriate instruction. 2.2 The integration of the outdoor learning environment within the learning process 43 .frameworks that most students bring to earth science classes (no matter what age). it also should inform the choice of a proper learning environment and the appropriate learning tools. and the computer. since this research is still limited. Orion (2001) suggests that in order to fulfill this potential and utilize these environments to best effect. or when working with computers. research related to earth science education should address the following: 1. the outdoors. Thus. whether in the laboratory. What methods are needed to utilize these learning environments properly? Responding to these questions should be done from a holistic perspective that connects the several. Holism in this sense refers to the interconnectedness of spatial reasoning and temporal thinking—not surprisingly. the laboratory. museum. or industrial site). the outdoors (field. What is the most appropriate context for utilizing each of these learning environments.

IGEO. According to this model the outdoor learning environment should be utilized early on in the concrete part of the learning process. 1991). 1986. 2000. The guiding principle of this model is a gradual progression from the concrete levels of the curriculum towards its more abstract components. a course. or a small set of learning activities (Orion. 2003) indicates a worldwide agreement on the central place of the outdoor learning environment within earth science education. This model can be used for designing a whole curriculum. There is little doubt that initiating learning based upon a student’s own interest. IGEO. an outdoor learning activity should be planned as an integral part of the curriculum rather than as an isolated activity.Review of the proceedings of the three International Geosciences Education Organization international conferences on Geoscience education (IGEO. Thus. 1997. and should be mainly focused on concrete interaction between the students and the environment. Abstract Summary unit Field trip Concrete Preparatory unit Figure 1: The spiral model of integrating an outdoor learning activity within the indoors-learning process. serving as a concrete bridge towards more abstract learning levels. The outdoors offers tangible experiences relevant to learning abstract concepts. The outdoor learning environment together with an indoor preparatory unit can constitute an independent module. or at least upon a student’s understanding of why learning a specific topic matters 44 . Orion (1993a) suggested a holistic model that connects the outdoor and the indoor learning environments (Figure 1).

Meaningful learning is an ambiguous term used frequently in this chapter. 19xxx). though not in isolation. this stage takes place in a relevant outdoor environment or in a versatile indoor space. 19xx) and when learners actively organize new meanings into frameworks of ideas adequate to solving problems and interpreting events in novel as well as familiar contexts (Novak.e. with guidance by the teacher. might serve as a powerful tool for “meaningful learning” (in the sense defined by Novak. Concepts. and to connect questions with answers. who has elaborated upon David Ausubel’s term. Meaningful learning may commence once the student grasps the meaning of a new concept (i. Novak and Gown. To learn meaningfully means to organize concepts into useful structures. Meaningful learning happens when connections are made through the use of concepts between interesting questions and their appropriate answers (Gowin. Depending on the subject and the school’s location. both the sense of its use and its reference to a set of events or objects. At this stage. students converse. to discover what interests them about a particular subject. Meaningful learning proceeds in terms of what is already known and hence of personal relevance while fashioning “superordinate categories” to integrate new knowledge in conflict with old (Novak. the learning process starts with a “meaning construction” session. 1977xxx). to feel the significance of ideas. The question may stem from personal interest or arise from deliberate instruction. In the former environment the function of the teacher is to mediate between the students and tangible phenomena. “meaningful verbal learning” Ausubel 1966xxx). make reference to tangible events and derive meaning from clearly articulated relationships to other concepts. 1977xxx.personally. hence integrating new knowledge into a modified conceptual structure containing entirely new categories thought.. 1977xxx. its signification of pattern or regularity in the occurrence of events. 19xxx) and hence can feel the significance of a question. we wish to constrain its ambiguity. when learned meaningfully. In Orion’s holistic model combining indoor and outdoor environments. Gowin. In this session. The results of meaningful learning are hierarchical conceptual structures with the power to subsume new knowledge either by “progressively differentiating” existing categories of thought or by reconciling current ideas. In the indoor environment the teacher’s role is to motivate students’ interest by exposing 45 .

Explicit understandings exist in bodies of formal knowledge (subjects). Kempa and Orion (1996) suggested another aspect of the outdoor learning environment: learning the methodology of field research. Subjects are repositories of resources for solving different kinds of problems. The unique element of the outdoor experience is not in the concrete experiences themselves (which could also be provided in the laboratory and classroom). 1896) has stressed the cognitive contribution of interaction with the physical environment. Students could view slides of a dune and investigate quartz grains in the laboratory. Orion speculates. These implicit associations—familiarity with properties and possibilities—are. According to Orion (1993). for example. Experiential activities that facilitate the construction of abstract concepts encourage long-term retention and meaningful learning in part. Thus. the goal of the outdoor learning environment includes two main objectives: (a) learning basic concrete concepts through direct interaction with the environment and (b) learning field investigation methodology. and written texts. video films. Experience adds affect to the resources for constructing new concepts. but it is only when climbing the steep front slope of a sand dune does a student experience of the structure a dune perceptually and physically. but the type of experiences: experiences that have emotional intensity. however. the main role of an outdoor learning activity in the learning process is to offer direct experience with concrete phenomena and materials. typically have little experience in need of these resources. the interactionist view (attributed to Dewey. computer software. ecology and geology. It is impossible to go beyond the “meaning construction” stage. Children and adolescents.them to phenomena that are related to the subject through the using of pictures. necessary precursors to explicit understandings. Internet sites. because affect enhances memory. acknowledges the value of implicit associations acquired through extensive experience with a phenomenon of interest. Dewey’s work. Historically. without briefly describing the characteristics of the outdoors as a learning environment and to clearly identify its advantages and disadvantages. for Dewey. Dewey argues that education should extend the experience of the learner into domains 46 . which plays a very important role in scientific disciplines such as biology.

processes. learning field investigation methodology in the outdoors classroom). The really thoughtprovoking character is obscured. and concepts which can only be learned in a concrete fashion outdoors. Gibson’s (1966) theory of direct perception supports the validity of Orion’s model of outdoor-indoor activity. In addition.where these resources have value. The outdoors is a very complicated learning environment and includes a large number of stimuli that can easily distract students from meaningful learning. He thought insight into this logic would inform teaching in a positive manner. Gibson argues that perception should be understood as a process of obtaining information from activity. One point is most crucial to understand: the outdoor learning environment addresses phenomena and processes that cannot be cultivated indoors. The goal is for the learner to see knowledge as purposeful. 1996). In addition.. it is important to identify those abstract concepts to 47 . much of his work emphasized the need to respect the nature of the child and the importance of childhood experience. and those that can be learned in a concrete fashion indoors. Collins and Resnick. quite rightly. (Dewey [1902] 1990. the first task of teachers and curriculum developers is to identify and classify phenomena. and the organizing function disappears. He noted. The outdoor environment appears essential to revealing these purposes when learning earth sciences as well as to unveiling the logic of inquiry in field settings. 205xxx) Dewey valued the logic of action in the context of actual inquiry (e. Dewey feared the sterility of content presented to students as specialized knowledge bereft of the reasons for its construction: Those things which are most significant to the scientific man and most valuable in the logic of actual inquiry and classification drop out.g. skills. that schooling expected children to learn ideas without understanding the purposes they served. rather than as a (passive) process of constructing representations of the situation and operating on those representations (Greeno. Thus. He was Rousseau’s obvious successor in this regard. His goal was to reconcile two traditions: subject-centered and child-centered instruction. In addition to Dewey’s interactionist viewpoint.

films. The psychological novelty is the gap between the students’ expectations and the reality that they face during the outdoor learning event. From this point. superposition. slides and computer software) must be substituted. a better understanding of the three dimensional nature of a folded structure as well as the folding mechanism can be effectively achieved through the use of computer software and hand held models (Kali and Orion. more sophisticated indoor tools (such as pictures. conducted either outdoors or indoors. 2). thus facilitating meaningful learning during the field trip. 1997). and initial horizontality can be better explained through lab observations and simulations. geographical and psychological. Following the understanding of these concepts students who arrive to this specific outcrop can conclude that the layers are not located in their original setting. This preparation deals with reducing what is termed by Orion and Hofstein (1994) as the “novelty space” of an outdoor setting (Fig. It defines the scope of preparation required for an educational field trip. Then. Following the “meaning construction” stage. Are they ready to approach this task? Or is the challenge too novel? Many of the concepts useful to drawing conclusions about the anticlinal structure sedimentation. through a field observation they might decipher the anticline structure. The main aim of this phase is to prepare the students for their outdoor learning activities. The geographical novelty reflects the acquaintance of the students with the outdoor physical area. The novelty space consists of three factors: cognitive. The novelty space concept has a very clear implication for planning and conducting outdoor learning experiences. Working with the materials that the students will meet in the field and conducting 48 . The cognitive novelty depends on the concepts and skills that students are asked to deal with throughout the outdoor learning experience. the first phase of a specific learning spiral starts in the indoor learning environment. Consider a location where students find that an outcrop reveals an anticline and begin to infer geological processes that might have produced this structure.which the outdoors contributes little to student understanding. In such cases. Preparation that considers the three novelty factors reduces the novelty space to a minimum. it is entirely dependent on the specific learning sequence. The length of time of this phase is varied.

which is better conducted in an indoor environment. Students should know the purpose of outdoor learning. but only those. The teacher’s role is to act as a mediator between the students and the concrete phenomena. their study also highlighted the difficulties 49 . which might be answered according to the evidence uncovered in the specific outdoor site. Their study supported the importance of preparation for the outdoor learning experience. films. with the teacher. and secondly to detailed information about the event. etc. To reduce the geographic and psychological novelty of the outdoor learning experience teachers may turn first to slides.. the expected weather conditions. However. if at all. Otherwise time and resources. Safety briefing is a must as well. including the students’ attention. Paria and Kempa (2003) explored Orion’s model within the Portuguese earth sciences curriculum. the learning method. which identify the novelty space of an outdoor learning activity The next phase in this cycle is the outdoor learning activity. The curriculum materials for the outdoor learning experience should lead students to interact directly with the phenomenon and only secondarily. Figure 2: The three dimensions. the expected difficulties along the route. They also found a positive influence of this learning environment on students’ learning. Marques.simulations of geological processes through laboratory experiments directly reduces cognitive novelty. is wasted on activities that might be done elsewhere. the length of time. the number of learning stations. maps. Lectures. Some of the students’ questions can be answered on the spot. discussions and long summaries should be postponed until the next phase.

1996). Even having observed a structure such as an anticline in the field. Following their initial study of distance learning. 1996) nicely illustrates an example of the indoor—outdoor cycle. Most geological outcrops hide elements of the three dimensional configuration of geological structure. many of the software’s tasks are based on the same concrete phenomena that students have observed and identified during their geological field trips.teachers faced in adapting to the novel. Thus. The design of this software fosters the development of spatial visualization skill. the outdoors is not as suitable a learning environment as is a computer simulation for the development of spatial visualization (Kali and Orion. Findings indicated that it is possible to decrease the need for teachers during lab procedures and to decrease the chance of failure. In an out of school setting where a student sat alone without a teacher and conducted the lab activity by himself/herself. The web-site also included questions that students have to answer following their activity and send by email to the teacher. The study included the development of a website with detailed visual and textual instructions for conducting hands-on lab activities and an identical kit of all the equipment and materials needed for conducting a specific experiment. (The last section of this chapter returns to this issue in detail. Gudovich and Orion administered a battery of qualitative and quantitative instruments in order to find out more about the role of the teacher during lab activities.) Geo3D software (Kali & Orion. outdoor learning environment. Gudovich and Orion (2003) researched how to integrate the computer and the laboratory learning environments within the framework of a distance learning course. 2. 50 . At the same time. most students have difficulty perceiving its three dimensional form. Analyzing students’ difficulties during the activities indicates that those difficulties are not unique to distant learning setting. The teacher remained in the lab in order to address any needs of the students. In the school's lab where students sat in small groups (2-3) in front of a computer with the activity kit on the table and conducted the lab activity independently following the visual and the textual instructions of the distant learning website. This model was tested in the following two settings: 1.

using “fingerprints” left on the earth. No one can send glacial ice across a continent or carve a Grand Canyon.3. Inference based upon comparison and contrast. German et al. 963). However. (1995) describes geology as an interpretive and historical science. little has been published concerning the influence of simulations on the development of misconceptions among school students. Gordin and Pea (1999) describe the geosciences as being “observational sciences” that emphasize comparisons and contrasts among features of the earth in time and place. and hypotheses. conclusions. Frodeman. Another unexploited area of the earth science laboratory environment is its great potential for contributing to the development of inquiry scientific skills and thinking. 1962.3 Integrating the lab learning environment within the learning sequence Although there are many laboratory-based earth science units for various age levels all over the world.” He further argues that “the geologist picks up on the clues of past events and processes in a way analogous to how the physician interprets the signs of illness or the detective builds a circumstantial case against a defendant” (p. observations. Consequently. A traditional method for categorizing inquiry curricula is to analyze the degree of structure or openness of the activities they include (Schwab. They offer different milieus for illustrating the meaning of some of the most basic constructs of scientific thinking: for example. quantitative. inquiry-based curricula can be placed anywhere on a 51 . A review of many such lab-based units indicates that the main role of the laboratory is to demonstrate or simulate the earth's processes. and subject to scrutiny using rules of logic. differs from inference based upon the results of experimentation (Ault. Using such methods. especially when considered across different scales in time and place. 1996). Edelson. Herron. Both approaches are empirical. 1998). little has been published concerning the role of the laboratory learning environment within the earth science education.2. They are unfundable and unreplicable. many geological inquiries are of a retrospective type—trying to unravel what happened in the past. Inquiry in the geosciences has a unique characteristic: its “experiments” in the grandest sense have already been conducted by nature. which “embodies distinctive methodology within the sciences. 1971.

1989).g. and reporting their findings.g. 52 . in effect. One of the rarely asked questions regarding inquiry learning concerns the cognitive prerequisites necessary for using open inquiry methods. Solomon. Such understanding provides the means for making hypotheses. hypothesis. Zohar (1998) reported that junior high school students had difficulties in understanding the difference between their experimental results and their conclusions. then communicate their findings. conduct. one expects high metacognitive skill and intellectual ability to be essential requisites to keep the learning process going” (p.continuum extending from completely structured curricula on one side to completely open curricula on the other. evidence exists indicating that students in junior and senior high schools have severe difficulties in understanding the essence of the scientific method. 1999). Tamir (1989) claims that “students do not understand the concepts that underlie the processes of scientific investigations.g. However. They have. Germann. (1992) claim that “In unguided-discovery learning.135). Duveen & Hall (1994) reported that high school students had difficulties in distinguishing between descriptions and causal explanations.. designing experiments. Unfortunately.. 61). and analyze their own investigations. Elshout and Veenman. control) are not easy to understand…” (p. Those who advocate inquiry in the science curricula for all accept that the educational system ought to enable students bring students to a stage where they will be able to design. nor are the means for bringing students to a stage in which they will be able autonomously to design and conduct their own experiments. It is therefore reasonable to claim that students should understand the meaning of some of the most basic concepts used in scientific methodologies before they can begin an independent inquiry process. While some researchers suggest designing a variety of activities to suit a diversity of cognitive developmental stages in a classroom (e. collecting and analyzing data. others suggest preparing students for open inquiry by engaging them with well structured investigations (e. failed to learn scientific method as a content with its own concepts and principles. These concepts (e. Edelson et al. the appropriate stages for engaging students in open inquiry is not clear.

“hypothesis” and “conclusion”). The second variation includes a list of verbal expressions that constitute the entire inquiry path in the related module. without representing their understanding of the inquiry path. at beginning stages of their science education. students list the stages of the inquiry path in the module. The first variation starts with a short verbal summary of the inquiry path. MIR presents assignments in three alternative variations. Kali and Orion (2004) suggest that the earth sciences education has the potential to provide students. and represent this path in any way they choose. They developed a 34-hour lab-based curriculum unit for junior high school students. hypotheses. focusing on geological processes that transform the materials within the crust of the earth—“The Rock Cycle”—and organized this curriculum into nine structured inquiry modules. and who have difficulties in reconstructing the inquiry path without assistance. with missing words for the student to complete. In the third variation. in the degree of structure. and conclusions. The second MIR variation enables students to focus on the inquiry constructs. using the inquiry constructs. to the first variation. It continues using the linguistic schemes (terms like “observation”. as required in the first variation. It was designed to support students who are uncomfortable with filling in missing words in a text.” and categorized different stages of the inquiry with terms such as observations. To foster students' awareness of the different inquiry routes embedded in the inquiry modules. 53 . each of the modules was followed by a MIR (Metacognitive Inquiry Reconstruction) assignment.Learning earth sciences has a role to play in remedying this situation. In these activities linguistic terms were used as organizing schemes. for organizing the inquiry process. Each variation is a different combination of solutions to students’ needs and difficulties. from which the students choose. Students are asked to name the appropriate inquiry construct for each expression. This variation was designed for students who feel comfortable with verbal and structured environments. using verbal or graphic means. This variation is very similar. Students examined their investigation with “scientific inquiry spectacles. with basic inquiry skills that are required for further open-ended inquiry endeavors.

The study used a large battery of qualitative and quantitative research tools in a pre-test/post-test structure. they are not sufficient in themselves for inducing cognitive development amongst students. Students focused their tangible observations on materials of the earth. 2. The role of the computer learning environment for learning earth sciences is growing as the availability of computers as learning tools increases in many countries. and rural societies. and conclusions on a sample of 582 students in 7th and 8th grade from 21 classes sharing 14 teachers at 8 junior high schools in Israel.4 The computer learning environment. suburban. despite the great importance of appropriate curriculum materials. hypotheses. might have been a result of students’ engagement with the unique inquiry methods of geoscience. Thus. These teachers taught the “Rock Cycle” unit in the traditional manner. hypotheses. The schools represented urban. conclusions). Sometimes teachers are the limiting factor in students’ ability to exploit the potential of “The Rock Cycle” in developing scientific thinking skills. found in many of the classes. They drew conclusions from “experiments” that were conducted by nature in the past and did not design their own investigations.3. The large improvement in students’ scientific thinking skills.Kali and Orion (2004) tested the influence of learning an inquiry-based “Rock Cycle” curriculum and its accompanying MIR activities on student ability to distinguish between observations. However. Kali and Orion also found no improvement among classes taught by teachers who did not properly adopt the inquiry-based teaching strategy. The computer is mainly used within the earth science education for the following learning purposes: 54 . The large and significant pre-post differences found in many of the classes indicated the high potential for an inquiry-based “Rock Cycle” program to develop and distinguish among three basic elements of scientific thinking (observations. The pre-test outcomes indicated that the 7th and 8th grade students included in this study had considerable difficulties in understanding concepts underlying the scientific method.

“The Blue Planet. 2003. The curriculum. on-line data bases. 2000). Reynolds et al. 2003). 4. Demonstration through animations and simulations of earth processes and phenomena that cannot be demonstrated in the lab or in the field (Kali and Orion. Kali. 55 . 2. 1996. Orion and Elon. Dubowski and Dodick. it is only natural to present a holistic model for the curriculum materials development for learning earth sciences. Data collection and knowledge integration (Kali. Following the holistic earth systems approach for teaching earth science and the holistic approach of integrating the earth sciences’ learning environments together with emphasis on a concrete-abstract continuum. 2004. 3. Knowledge presentation through multimedia software (Chang. To achieve this goal. 2003).1. Gudovich and Orion 2004). and the possibility of distant learning (Slattery. Although there has been some research concerning the computer learning environment in the context of the earth sciences (as mentioned above). as well as preparing teachers to fully implement such strategies.. Orion. communication with peers and experts. we report in detail about a curriculum for teaching the water cycle from earth systems as well as environmental issues perspectives. In this section. Web-based learning that provides a variety of learning resources such as on-line information about phenomena and processes around the planet earth and other planets as well. Mayer and Klemm. Research and the development of curriculum materials The main goal of earth science education is to improve the way students learn about and understand our planet.” emerged from a “design research” effort. 2. the end product of science education research should be: 1. Development of appropriate teaching materials and strategies.4. 2. it is still in its embryonic stage and there is a great need to explore the unique contribution of this environment to learning earth sciences. Development of learning materials and learning strategies for a wide range of students and teachers. 2002.

a “zoom-in” analysis was conducted. curriculum development. This model of research. qualitative research tools were used with a smaller. The implementation phase involves in-service training for a small number of teachers who will teach the curriculum to their classes.1 Pre-development of “The Blue Planet” curriculum Based upon Orion’s helical model. It responds to the difficulties both students and teachers are having with the curriculum. this phase is followed by a wider implementation cycle. They used this model to develop inquiry-based software for the study of climatology through visualization. An implementation phase follows curriculum development. Evaluation happens again.4. Gordin and Pea (2004) advocate for “design research” as a powerful model for the development of effective learning tools. implementation. Later. this time on the wider scale. curriculum development. In turn. and evaluation should continue so long as the curriculum is in place. Quantitative research tools were used with a large sample in order to obtain a general picture of students’ knowledge and perceptions. preconceptions and learning difficulties associated with the specific subject. the study of learning takes place in the context of designing and revising curriculum materials based upon careful study of student response to these materials. In this model. research preceded and followed the development for 8th grade students of an earth systems unit on the hydrosphere. randomly selected sample in order to gain insight into “misconceptions” or “alternative concepts” and to validate the quantitative tools. leading to a third curriculum development stage. The results of the evaluation inform the second iteration of curriculum development. The findings from this stage serve as a basis for the first curriculum development phase.Edelson.” In order to examine students’ prior knowledge and understanding in relation to the water cycle. and so on. 2. In design research. and implementation is similar. Orion’s (2002) helical model of research. each curriculum development effort starts with a pre-development study to identify misconceptions. “The Blue Planet. This model helps to adapt curriculum materials for specific ages and varieties of students found in different classrooms. An evaluation study follows the implementation stage. The pre-development study included the following two objectives: 56 .

Specifically. Understanding the chemical and physical processes such as condensation. 3. An ERIC search in 2002 revealed only a few published studies that focused on children’s perceptions of the water cycle in the environmental context of the earth. Fetherstonhaugh and Bezzi (1992) reported that after 11 years of schooling. and Masene (1999) confirmed that students’ perceptions of the water cycle were influenced by their cultural beliefs and to a large extent by their pseudoscientific knowledge about cloud formation and rainfall. 1989. 2. Explore their perceptions of the cyclic and the systemic nature of the water cycle. Understanding interdisciplinary subjects such as water resources. namely. and the molecular structure of water. changes in the water state (Bar. Understanding the significance of water for processes that take place in living organisms. Balafoutas. they do not recognize the principal factors responsible for these problems. whereas at least 80% of them focused on the following three areas of difficulty: 1. Ray. and the social and scientific linkages of these topics. most of the studies that have been conducted in this area have concentrated on students’ perceptions of the physical aspects of the water cycle. Bar & Travis. Identify prior knowledge of the water cycle held by students entering junior high school. evaporation. and Gialamas (2001) reported that students do not perceive how human activities are related to water problems and their consequences. students could only present simplistic and naïve conceptions of the water cycle.1. Motswiri. Only a few of those articles dealt with the environmental aspects of water. Taiwo. Barker (1998) reported 57 . Brody (1994) conducted a meta-analysis study of about 30 articles published between 1983 and 1992 that dealt with difficulties of middle and high-school students in understanding different subjects connected with water. the students showed a poor and inadequate scientific understanding of groundwater as a part of the water cycle. Moreover. 2. 1991). Agelidou. Review of the literature concerning the predevelopment phase revealed that in spite of the crucial importance of water from the environmental perspective.

sewage water. 1 was the major reservoir of water on earth and 10 was the smallest reservoir. groundwater. a pre-development study was designed and implemented among a population of about 800 junior high school students. mainly through the leaves. Groundwater Dynamic Nature Questionnaire (GDN): This Likert-type questionnaire identifies students’ prior knowledge and understanding of the dynamic nature of the groundwater system and its environmental relationship with humans. word associations and interviews. in the second question they give an example according to their definition. The first part includes a Likert-type questionnaire in which students mark their level of agreement with seven statements concerning the cyclic nature of the hydrosphere and the conservation of matter within earth systems. students grade on a scale of 1 to 10 the relative global quantity of water that exists within each of the following components of the water cycle: oceans. Cyclic Thinking Questionnaire (CT): This questionnaire contains two parts. Global Magnitude Questionnaire (GM): This questionnaire contains two parts. Assessing Students’ Knowledge (ASK): In this Likert-type questionnaire. students indicate their level of agreement with three statements concerning the physical and chemical processes within the water cycle. In this scale. Drawing Analyses (DA): There is evidence that young children can communicate scientific ideas through their drawings by drawing what they know about a particular 58 . 50% of the students in his study claimed that plants retain all the water that they absorb. The following is a brief description of the different tools. Five types of research tools were used in the study: Likert type questionnaires. precipitation. In the second part. rocks. and humans. The first part includes a Likert-type questionnaire in which students indicate their level of agreement with five statements about the scale of each stage of the water cycle. open questions. glaciers. The second part includes two open questions: In the first question students define the concept of the cyclic process in nature. Since the literature provided only a limited basis for students’ alternative frameworks concerning the water cycle.that in spite of the fact that about 90% of the water absorbed by the roots is lost by evaporation. soil. lakes. drawings. tap water.

Cyclic conception of the water cycle as a series of links among water cycle components. underground water was a static. 3. Students write down all the water cycle concepts familiar to them. students read their answers and indicate whether they still agree with their drawings or responses to the questionnaire. using in their drawings as many items as possible from a list of stages and processes of the water cycle provided to them. human use of water. The drawings were analyzed according to the following criteria: 1. Transcription and qualitative analysis of the questionnaires from the predevelopment study indicated that most of the students demonstrated an incomplete picture of the water cycle and held many misconceptions about it. During the interviews. hydrosphere. geosphere. After comparing and discussing the two separate analyses. More than 50% of the students could not identify components of the ground water system even when they were familiar with the associated terminology. location. Children that drew the water cycle usually represented the upper part of the water cycle (evaporation. biosphere and atmosphere. and environmental and chemical aspects. condensation.object rather than what they see. Examples of human consumption or pollution. Additionally. 59 . They then elaborate on their answers. the authors each individually coded the drawings of 20 students. 4. Presence of earth systems. The students receive assurances that no one expected a highly artistic drawing. In order to increase the reliability and consistency of the analysis of the drawings. In this task. the students draw the water cycle. 2. follow-up interviews were conducted with 50 students. Depiction of processes. In their mind. Word Association (WA): Word Association directly probes for associations among a set of concepts. and rainfall) and ignored the ground water system. Interviews: Interviews with 40 students validate the analysis of their questionnaires and provide insights into students’ perceptions of the water cycle. in which students were asked to elaborate on their drawings. then later classify them in relation to a unifying concept such as processes in the water cycle. a standardized coding system was developed.

2 Development and evaluation of the “The Blue Planet” curriculum The findings of the pre-development study served as a basis for the development of an interdisciplinary program named “The Blue Planet. 2. Process-based knowledge. which is the ability to perceive the water cycle in the context of its interrelationship with the other Earth systems.sub-surface lake. Cyclic thinking correlated significantly with drawing the water cycle to include its groundwater component. Presumably. they imagined that water chemistry was constant throughout the entire water cycle (no purification by evaporation).4. 2. Cyclic thinking. Systemic thinking. The evaluation focused on: 60 . The knowledge component has two elements: 1.” Analysis of the pre-development study findings might suggest that the ability of students to perceive the hydrosphere as a coherent system depends on both scientific knowledge and cognitive abilities. It is a continuous process. just the same matter. 2. but in different forms. namely the understanding that the water cycle is a system which has no starting or end points. transformed over and over again within the system. The evaluation effort examined the effect of “The Blue Planet” program on the earth science learning of 700 junior high school students. The cognitive component also has two elements: 1. There is no starting point and no end point in the water cycle.” This program focused on the water cycle as an example of the relationships seen amongst the various earth systems. environmental insight regarding water pollution and water conservation requires connecting the stages of the water cycle to the processes that modify water quality and abundance. The water cycle alterative frameworks held by more than 50% of the students do not bode well for learning environmental insights. namely a deep understanding of the various processes that transform matter within the water cycle. Factual-based knowledge that includes acquaintance with the components of the water cycle and awareness of its processes. Furthermore. A student who drew the underground water system held the following concept about the cyclic nature of the water cycle: “I absolutely disagree.

Comparison of the number and type of items between the concept maps served as a measure of changes in students’ knowledge and understanding of processes. the teachers concentrated primarily on scientific principles and only very little on the cognitive aspects of the connections between the water cycle and the other earth systems. Two additional research tools were used in this stage: Concept maps: The students were asked to create concept maps at the beginning and end of the learning process. The following are the main findings of the evaluation study: 1. 2. 4.1. The observations indicated that for the most part. A significant improvement was found in relation to students’ understanding of the evaporation process. most teachers tended to ignore the constructivist activities developed in light of the findings of the predevelopment study. However. or between the water cycle and environmental case studies. The analysis of the cyclic and systemic thinking questionnaires showed some improvements in students’ understanding of the different types of 61 . in relation to all the other processes only a minor improvement was found. The number of connections within the concept map served as an indication of students’ understanding of the relationship between the components of the water cycle. namely acquaintance with the components of the water cycle. Identifying changes in knowledge and cognitive skill among students. 3. Exploring students’ conceptions and attitudes about people’s relationships with the earth system. 3. more coherent conception of the water cycle within an earth systems context. A significant improvement was found in student’s level of knowledge. These were activities intended to correct students’ misconceptions and to develop a broader. Observations: In order to track the learning event itself regular observations were conducted in the classes. 2. The observer used a structured observation report that directed her to document the type of activities of both students and the teacher. Identifying the alternative frameworks students possess with regard to the components of the water cycle. In addition.

Traditional science teaching The main purpose is to prepare the future scientists of a society Disciplinary-centered teaching Teacher-centered teaching Content-based teaching The teacher as the source of knowledge/information “Chalk and talk” based teaching School-based learning Curriculum that is derived from the scientific world Proper earth systems teaching The main purpose is to prepare the future citizens of a society Multidisciplinary teaching Child-centered teaching Integration of skills within contents The teacher as a facilitator of learning and mediator of knowledge Inquiry based teaching Multiple learning environments: Classroom. Although such activities were provided. However. teachers tended to ignore them. Table 1: A comparison between traditional science teaching and proper earth systems teaching. These findings indicate that improvement in knowledge is not enough for the development of environmental insight. teachers may limit the introduction of new content and new learning strategies within schools. outdoors and computer. Curriculum that is derived from the real world of student experience 62 . 3. through learning activities that were directly developed for this purpose. poor understanding of the systemic nature of the water cycle dominated student thinking. Teaching strategies that are needed in order to achieve meaningful learning about earth systems and environmental insights are quite different from the traditional science teaching (Table 1). Most of the students showed a fragmented conception of the water cycle and made no connections between the atmospheric stages of the water cycle and the geospheric (underground) stages of the water cycle.interrelationship among the earth systems. For this purpose students should develop their cognitive abilities of cyclic and systemic thinking. As determined in the evaluation of “The Blue Planet” program. lab. The teaching aspect: the difference between professional development and professional change We cannot complete the holistic view of the ability to engage students in meaningful learning of the earth sciences without paying close attention to teaching. even after completing The Blue Planet program. They need to understand that simply gaining knowledge about the components of the water cycle does not contribute to progress in the development of environmental insight.

students learn these subjects best—and often can only learn field methodologies of investigation—when teachers make use of the outdoor learning environment. Clearly. from reductionism and disciplinary-driven schooling towards holism and attention to educating students for lives of social responsibility within democratic societies. 2003. however teaching about earth systems demands something more: that teachers actually teach earth science subjects. and leading and taking a practical role in hundreds of in-service training hours in each of the 10 years both in in-service training centers and in the teachers’ schools and classes. 2003).D. taking a central role in a team that has developed learning materials for these two programs. the contents of their curricula. The use of the term “professional development” is misleading and contributes to the difficulties of making a genuine change in teaching style and focus. All together. Furthermore. This action research has included qualitative and quantitative data collected with questionnaires. this shift constitutes a major change in philosophy. dissertations (Kali & Orion 2003. Orion & Gniel 2004) and one Master’s thesis (Midyan. Orion 2003b). Most traditional science teaching ignores this environment. Kapulnick. interviews and classroom observations. an area in which many science teachers in many countries have little or no scientific background (King. It requires participation and commitment on many levels. The task to be accomplished exceeds what we might expect of professional development. This intensive work included participating in the committees that designed the new “Science for All” curricula for junior high and high school. Professional development is far too restrictive a concept. Dodick & Orion 2003b. these different studies examined the practice of science 63 . The shift presented in table 1 is valid for any genuine “Science for All” teaching. from community and school to business and academia. Ben-zvi-Assraf & Orion 2004. and their approaches to instruction.Traditional assessment Alternative assessment In order for teachers to move from the left column of Table 1 to the right one— from traditional to earth systems teaching—they must change their goals for student learning. Study of this decadal process has produced four Ph. Orion (2003b) has reported on the outcome of a long-term (10 years) study within the “storm’s eye” of the new Israeli “Science for All” curricula for junior high and high school.

The feeling that the training institutes outside of school regional centers did not provide them with practical tools needed to overcome their apprehension about unknown areas. curriculum developers. A general apprehension about change. The lack of support from the school management. Each of the different and separate studies indicated that despite their participation in long term in-service training programs. these studies addressed systemic reform from the points of view of principals. the vast majority of the teachers did not undergo genuine professional development. A double-standard from the Ministry of Education in general and more specifically from their science education inspectors. 3. and a reasonable amount of teaching hours. Professional inertia was the rule.teaching and learning for about 1000 science teachers and their students. resources for using the outdoor learning environment. the interviews with the teachers revealed four additional factors which prevented them from genuinely implementing a reform: 1. In addition to teachers’ reluctance to implement new teaching methods and incorporate new scientific topics. The studies indicated a clear gap between the teachers’ positive declaration about their development as were expressed through questionnaires and interviews and their actual practice in classrooms. superintendents. academic scientists. In addition to observing teachers and evaluating student learning. The teachers claimed that they were confused. as well as in-service training and pre-service education programs for teachers. 2. but also included teachers and students from the elementary and the high school levels. a reasonable number of students for working in a laboratory. 4. computers. since on one hand the Ministry of Education initiated the reform and their inspectors encouraged them to participate in the regional centers’ 64 . the ministry of education. Most of the studies were conducted at the junior high school level. This gap was especially clear in regards to their implementations of new teaching methods and new subject matter. which does not provide them the needed resources for adapting new teaching strategies such as laboratory equipment.

For these teachers it is a paradigm shift and many (actually most) cannot or do not really want to undergo such a huge change. 4. but at the same time the Ministry of Education did not provide them with needed resources. the Israeli case illustrates the need for research in science education to address many contexts. Most importantly. 3. The above findings suggest that the movement of teachers towards an earth systems approach with the spirit of the “Science for All” paradigm consists of more than professional development. In light of these considerations. Orion (2003b) suggested that an effective model for professional change should include the following components: 1. The school’s management should be an integral part of the INST and take on the commitment of facilitating the implementation of the new reform. Summary 65 . Yet the conflict between reform efforts and testing priorities is worrisome and certainly experienced elsewhere. The first teaching experiences with the new methods and contents should be done with close support from the INST experts. 2.INST (xxx what does INST stand for?) program. the Ministry called upon the inspectors to implement a national testing regime—in many respects institutionalizing the antithesis of the new “Science for All” approach. Furthermore. The world is complicated and diverse and the Israeli example is that of just one nation. The INST leaders should be equipped with psychological knowledge and skills to deal with reservations and oppositions which result from a fear of change. from integrating curriculum to changing teaching paradigms. 4. In the first stage the teachers have to experience the new methods and contents as learners. Positive experiences as learners will help them to be both convinced of the effectiveness of the new paradigm and later to deal with their students’ learning difficulties from the perspective of the difficulties that they experienced as learners.

The progress of earth science in schools all over the world is closely related to its central role in the development of environmental insight among future citizens. learning earth sciences offers lessons students need in order to develop their capacity to exercise this responsibility. both of the interior earth and its changing climate. becoming agents of geologic. the ability of earth science to establish itself as a sustainable course of study in schools is highly dependent on the ability of science teachers to overcome many barriers. from seismic to atmospheric. This low stature is a function of the failure to understand “what’s so special about learning earth sciences. and evolutionary change. regional. On local. and global scales human interact with earth’s natural systems. By interpreting the present as the outcome of natural experiments on vast scales and sleuthing out its causal history. including their own lack of background and the persistent low stature of the field. These systems operate on many scales in time and place. climatic. This model combines an educational vision (development of environmental insight through adopting the earth 66 . Making sense of earth’s processes and patterns. This power carries heavy responsibility. block diagrams. However. earth sciences set the stage for making extrapolations about possible futures. Understanding how the earth works requires retrospection and retrodiction— making inferences about the past. These representations place distinctive demands on the cognitive capacities of learners. and computer models of virtual worlds. These extrapolations inform our actions with information about risks. interacting systems. depends upon visualization and spatial reasoning as well as recognizing bias in the human-scale perception of events. themselves composed of stabilizing cycles.” Learning earth sciences offers the distinct potential of seeing through the landscape and through time. structures and changes.The first decade of the 21st century finds earth science education in a more central place in science curricula than a decade before. The earth sciences represent phenomena of interest in visual forms: contour maps. Its many subjects unite to conceive of the world as dynamic. some so vast as to challenge the limits of imagination. This chapter presents a holistic view of earth sciences education and a holistic model to achieve a meaningful learning of the earth sciences. systems and cycles.

Research has a central role in this holistic plan. to set the agenda for learning earth sciences will fail to serve the public good. 67 . then we must understand better what obstacles are and how to overcome them. fully integrated. In addition. and problems to solve through application of knowledge about earth systems. We need to respect students. laboratory. We know much too little from a research perspective about thoroughly contextualized. outdoor and computer). to understanding phenomena across scales. and their communities as sources of ideas. The good news that emerges from this chapter is that there are sound studies that have already been done that can show the way for progress. curriculum development for all the learning environments. either from each other or from the humanities and social sciences. preparing teachers for the implementation of the new curriculum materials. If we are to have curricula that do these things. and the teaching strategies and tactics that are appropriate for each learning environment (classroom. earth systems thinking linked to environmental studies and centered on students personal and social lives. their families. the research agenda should provide the basis for the development of curriculum materials. but the better news is that these studies are still few and there is room for many young researchers to join the bandwagon and make their mark in the earth science education field and in the future of humankind on earth. issues. The vision encompasses how learning earth sciences may contribute to gaining insight into the nature of scientific investigation and scientific reasoning in several contexts. the conclusion remains that depending upon the earth science disciplines in isolation. to retrospection. Nevertheless. the sequencing of approach) together with a research agenda. and to developing the cognitive capacity for systems thinking. to integrating several subjects. and productive paths for teachers to follow in overcoming internally and externally imposed barriers to reform. It should provide an understanding of students’ difficulties with the learning process and identify the appropriate learning and teaching strategies for overcoming cognitive barriers to spatial and temporal thinking.

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