Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Sensitivity to Landscape Features: A Spatial Analysis of Field Geoscientists on the Move

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Sensitivity to Landscape Features: A Spatial Analysis of Field Geoscientists on the Move

Article excerpt


The abilities to think critically and solve problems lie at the heart of most educational goals and are particularly emphasized in science education. For example, reform efforts in the U.S. (e.g., AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996, 2012) call for developing students' skills in making observations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing and testing explanations, and evaluating arguments from evidence-all skills critical in scientific problem solving. Does developing these skills depend on students' intellectual abilities or on how students choose to use those abilities in solving particular problems?

Traditionally, views of intelligent behavior focused solely on ability-whether an individual had the capacity, generally in terms of possessing particular intellectual traits or behaviors, for success at a particular task. Several researchers, however, propose that intelligent behavior ''in the wild'' (cf. Hutchins, 1996) depends not only on raw ability but also on how the individual is disposed toward using that ability. Simply put, dispositions are ''behavioral tendencies'' (Perkins et al., 1993, p. 5) that account for how people invest their abilities, such as open-mindedness, curiosity, being methodical, etc. This dispositional view of intelligent behavior can account for variations in performance in everyday contexts beyond ability-centric measures alone (Perkins et al., 1993, 2000).

Perkins et al. (1993, 2000) proposed a three-part model of dispositional intelligence. First, the authors used the term ability in reference to an individual's capacity to carry out a particular behavior. Second, inclination was used to refer to whether an individual is motivated to engage in the behavior. Third, sensitivity was used to refer to whether the individual noticed opportunities to engage in the behavior. A series of studies on critical thinking with U.S. 5th- to 8thgrade students (children ages 10-14 y) demonstrated that sensitivity was most often the bottleneck to effective performance (Perkins et al., 2000). In other words, missed opportunities to engage in particular types of effective thinking, rather than lack of ability or inclination, led to decreased task performance.

The notion of dispositional thinking gained momentum in the cognitive science literature in the late 1980s (e.g., Baron, 1987; Ennis, 1987; Siegel, 1988), although, as noted by Perkins et al. (1993), it has its roots in the Dewey (1930) concept of good habits of the mind. In Table I, we explore how the Perkins et al. (1993, 2000) triadic model of dispositional thinking may be related to other psychological constructs. In particular, we note that dispositional thinking appears to be distinct from the affective and cognitive components of the human mind (cf. Huitt, 1999) because it is not limited to feelings and emotions or to the attainment and processing of knowledge, respectively.

The activity of geologic mapping provides an opportunity to examine problem-solving behavior, as well as the role of dispositional thinking, quite literally in the ''wild.'' During mapping, the geoscientist is typically outdoors for extended periods, often in rugged terrain, and must form and test hypotheses while moving through an unfamiliar landscape. The goal of this task is to produce both a spatially accurate map of the surface distribution of rock types (the bedrock geology) and an accurate interpretation of the threedimensional relationships of these rocks beneath the earth's surface (the structural geology). Furthermore, mapping is an example of a relatively ill-defined problem (cf. Reitman, 1965) in which the desired outcome is clear-successfully interpreting the landscape through creating an accurate map of the rock distribution and geologic structure(s)-but the process by which the solution is attained is not prescribed.

Both abilities and learned skills clearly have a role in mapping. For example, the geoscientist must be able to correctly identify the types of rocks encountered, take measurements of the rock orientations, interpret those measurements in three dimensions, infer what rocks are present in areas lacking surface exposure, and plan a route through an unfamiliar landscape. …

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