Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Effect of Using Inquiry and Multiple Representations on Introductory Geology Students' Conceptual Model Development of Coastal Eutrophication

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Effect of Using Inquiry and Multiple Representations on Introductory Geology Students' Conceptual Model Development of Coastal Eutrophication

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Collegiate introductory Earth science courses are frequently terminal science courses for non-science majors. As a result these courses, such as the introductory physical geology course in this research study, are the final opportunity Earth science instructors have to support and develop student learning in the sciences. The use of inquiry-based learning (IBL) and multiple representations (e.g., physical models and information technology) has been a call for reform in science education and may be a means to reach students in introductory courses. This research tested the pedagogical coupling of IBL and multiple representations to support introductory students' conceptual model development of the complex and dynamic Earth process, eutrophication, through the evaluation of student drawings and written reports. In this research, participants from nine laboratory sections were randomly placed into experimental (IBL and multiple representations style labs) and control (workbook style labs) groups. Statistical results indicated significant (ρ < 0.05) pre-post differences in the conceptual model drawings in only the experimental group, where student performance on the reports and drawings were significantly different (ρ < 0.01) between test groups. These results indicated that the use of IBL and multiple representations had a positive impact on introductory students' conceptual model development of eutrophication.

INTRODUCTION

A principle objective of Earth and environmental education is to achieve scientific literacy among students where they are prepared for future participation in society as informea citizens and are able to make educated decisions about a rapidly changing and complex world (AAAS, 1993; Jimenez-Aleixandre and Periero-Munos, 2002; NRC, 2000). Miller (1993, 1998) defines scientific literacy as a multidimensional construct which includes understanding of basic scientific vocabulary, the process of the nature of scientific inquiry, and the impact of science and technology on society. However, many introductory science and geoscience courses are generally designed to cover facts, theories, and techniques that do not relate to other fields, ignore higher order thinking, and do not support accurate conceptual model development, therefore leading students to develop a naïve view that science is an unproblematic accumulation of facts that describe the world (Don and Hersovitz, 1999; Mathewson, 1962; Sandoval and Reisner, 2003). These student views may ultimately lead to the development of inaccurate conceptual understandings of complex Earth and environmental systems, the nature of science, and affect the ability to make sound decisions and arguments about socioscientific issues (Bell and Lederman, 2003; Sadler et al, 2004; Zeidler et al., 2002).

Students' ability to understand complexity has become a leading research strand in recent studies (Ekborg, 2003; Forrester, 1994; Grotzer, 1993; Kühn et al., 2000; Raia, 2005; Sell et al., 2006) because most natural systems exhibit characteristics that are complex. These characteristics can include (i) interactions between system components, (ii) changes in system state over space and time, (iii) unpredictable self-organization that leads to feedbacks producing the emergence of structure or patterns, and (iv) chaotic behavior (Colucci-Gray et al., 2006; Herbert, 2006; Sell et al., 2006). Eutrophication is a good example of a complex Earth process, where excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from fertilizers, discharge of human waste, animal production, and combustion of fossil fuels (Nixon, 1995) stimulate the growth of phytoplankton and indirectly the bacteria thriving on the seafloor that feed upon the sinking phytoplankton and other sources of particulate organic material (POM; e.g. phytoplankton, detritus, fecal pellets, etc.). This process can ultimately lead to the on-set of bottom water hypoxic conditions in some estuarine regions. …

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