Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Enhancement of Geology Content Knowledge through Field-Based Instruction for Pre-Service Elementary Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Enhancement of Geology Content Knowledge through Field-Based Instruction for Pre-Service Elementary Teachers

Article excerpt


This study measures the effect that field-based instruction has on student learning of earth science content knowledge related to sedimentary rocks for college students intending to be pre-service elementary teachers. A total of 36 students from 2 semesters of a specialized earth science course for pre-service teachers participated in a mixed-methods study. The students received the same 3 day inquiry-based classroom curriculum and field trip preparation, but 3 variations of the field trip were administered. The first field trip was a guided-inquiry, hands-on exploration where students were actively involved in directing their learning, the second field trip was a lecture-based field trip where the instructor directed the student learning, the third was an immersive, inquiry-based virtual field trip presented in Quicktime VR. The quantitative findings indicate that all field trips produced gains in understanding beyond those produced by the classroom curriculum, and that this increase in learning came about regardless of the type of field trip the students experienced. Interviews and other qualitative analysis reveal that students who participated in the guided-inquiry, physical field trip did emerge with a deeper understanding of the conceptual ideas compared with other field trip styles.


In this time of nationwide budget crises and increased liability of schools, field trips are being eliminated from science programs in all levels of education. Administrators withhold funding and support for field trips because they often view them as extracurricular activities rather than potentially meaningful learning experiences (Orion, 2003). The significance of the field trip as an educational tool has long been recognized in biology, ecology, and geology (Orion, 1993; Hawley, 1996; Kempa and Orion, 1996). Despite this fact, few K-12 teachers use the outdoor field environment as a means of teaching science. Because few preservice teachers gain field experience in their science classes, they remain unaware of the educational potential the outdoor environment can provide. Teachers that include field trips in their science curriculum often run their field trips in a direct instructional style, only replicating the instruction that occurs in the classroom and not taking full advantage of the educational opportunities in the field (Hawley, 1996).


In the earth sciences, field trips have the potential to provide a foundation for learning concepts that cannot be adequately taught in a classroom. Field learning involves direct sensory motor experiences that facilitate the understanding of basic concepts in geology (Orion, 1993). Much geologic content is spatially embedded, in that a total understanding of certain ideas cannot exist without also understanding 3-dimensional (3D) field relationships (Kali and Orion, 1996). Many ideas that require visualization of spatial relationships between bodies of rocks can be addressed in an abstract way in a classroom, but through mechanisms that are not yet fully understood, the field environment helps the learner to contextualize and understand these ideas more deeply (Orion 1993, Orion and Hoftein, 1994). The question that remains is whether content knowledge is built in the field, and if it is, how and why does this occur?

Because of logistical limitations at both the K-12 and college levels such as expense, transportation, liability and time issues, many educators have abandoned field-based instruction entirely or have turned to alternatives such as virtual field trips. For the purposes of this study the term "field trip" will refer to an excursion outside of the classroom with the objective of observing some geologic phenomena. The term "virtual field trip refers generally to any computer-based interactive simulation or exercise that is based on some real field location, presumably with the same learning goals as the physical trip to the actual field area. …

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