Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Candies to Demonstrate Concepts of Weathering and Sedimentary Processes in Lecture-Based Introductory Earth Science Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Candies to Demonstrate Concepts of Weathering and Sedimentary Processes in Lecture-Based Introductory Earth Science Courses

Article excerpt


Students enrolling in undergraduate level introductory earth science courses often have little or no science background. For lecture format courses, demonstrations or hands-on activities used to illustrate geologic concepts may be valuable teaching tools to facilitate student learning. Demonstrations using materials with which students have familiarity can be especially effective. We used peanut M&M's® in a series of classroom demonstrations to illustrate concepts of physical and chemical weathering, sediment transportation, and deposition. Student response to this and other demonstrations has been favorable. The demonstrations have fostered student interest in lectures. Results from student learning surveys indicate that most students found such classroom demonstrations aided their understanding of the course material. In particular, when asked about specific aspects of the course and the relationship to learning, most students considered physical activities to be more effective in their learning than other course-related activities such as reading the textbook or working on non-physical group activities.


Studies have shown that a traditional lecture style of teaching may not address the learning styles of the majority of college students (e.g. Wooldridge, 1995; Johnson and Malinowski, 2001; DiPasquale et al., 2003). However, the need for high enrollments in introductory courses and traditional administrative course scheduling plans at many colleges and universities often lead to the retention of lecture-based courses in many sciences (e. g. French and Russell, 2001). The lecture format of teaching may be an effective as well as inexpensive way of delivering factual knowledge (McKeachie, 1999; Edwards et al., 2001; Cronin-Jones, 2003), and as such lectures still occupy a major role in today's undergraduate education. Therefore, there has been increasing interest in the use of alternative teaching strategics within the traditional lecture format (Druger, 1998; Bligh, 2000; Johnson and Malinowski, 2001; Cronin-Jones, 2003; DiPasquale et al. 2003).

One such strategy that has received considerable attention is the use of demonstrations and hands-on activities (e.g. Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Druger, 1998; Lord, 2001). Based on a survey of 29 faculty members, Johnson and Malinowski, (2001) concluded that demonstrations, while being one of the least frequently used learning tools, can be an important vehicle to foster learning in classrooms by raising student interest and involvement in the subject matter. Due to the complexity of many geological processes, students in introductory earth science classes often have difficulty visualizing, comprehending, and remembering those processes (Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Kusnick, 2002). A lack of an adequate science and math background on the part of the students often compounds this difficulty. Simple classroom demonstrations or hands-on activities using familiar objects may be valuable teaching tools to illustrate such complex geological processes.

Based on students' preferred learning styles, McCarthy et al. (1987) and McCarthy (1996) broadly grouped students into four end-member learner types. According to their classification scheme, Type One learners are those students who learn best by observing and listening rather than doing, and tend to prefer group activities. These students are also most likely to be anxious in math and science classes because of emphasis on logical, linear thinking processes. Type Two learners are those students who are analytical and learn best by thinking. They are fact oriented and prefer to learn mainly by reading the textbook and class notes instead of working in groups or hands-on activities. These students are most likely to perform well in traditional teacher-centered classrooms and can be resistant to student-centered pedagogical approaches. Type Three and Type Four learners prefer to learn by actively processing information by experimentation, hands-on applications and trial-and-error processes. …

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