Earth Systems Science Education in Research Handbook

Dr. Libarkin has co-authored a chapter on EARTH SYSTEMS SCIENCE EDUCATION with Nir Orion for the Handbook of Research on Science Education, Volume II. This chapter provides a new look at latest developments in Earth Systems Science education and is a companion to the chapter co-authored by Nir Orion in 2007. Learn more about the book here:


I wanted to remind everyone how to subscribe to the community email listserv for people interested in Geoscience Education Research and Geocognition Research. Here’s how to subscribe:

To subscribe to this list send an email to  with the following text in the first line of the body of the message:




GRL personnel have again made some important achievements. I am excited to report that:

Undergraduate GREG RUETENIK did an amazing job on his poster at UURAF. His poster was entitled “APPLICATION OF SPATIAL ANALYSIS TOOLS TO PROJECTION OF EYE TRACKING DATA”. This work was funded by an MSU Undergraduate Research Support Scholarship; he is working on a paper, coming soon!

Graduate student NICOLE LADUE received a Geological Society of America Student Research grant for her project “THE INFLUENCE OF SPATIAL ABILITY ON GEOLOGIC PROBLEM SOLVING.” This award will allow Nicole to extend her dissertation research into the role of spatial ability on high school student Earth Science performance.

Graduate students NICOLE LADUE and CHRISTY STEFFKE have received Dissertation Continuation Fellowships from the College of Natural Science. This follows on the heels of ROBERT DROST and SHELDON TURNER receiving ESPP summer fellowships.

Graduate student ROBERT DROST was recently interviewed for the State News: Look for him in another State News article soon. Tornado question? Ask Bob.

Graduate student SHELDON TURNER was featured in the State News:


Several graduate students in the GRL were recently recognized for their exceptional efforts in research through receipt of summer funding fellowships, research and travel grants, and national awards.

ROBERT DROST and SHELDON TURNER both received Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Student Summer Research Funding grants from Michigan State University. These grants provide funding for living expenses and research or travel expenses. Bob will spend the summer investigating the efficacy of tornado warnings, while Sheldon will be completing his dissertation research on environmental decision-making.

All four GRL graduate students, ROBERT DROST, NICOLE LADUE, CHRISTY STEFFKE, and SHELDON TURNER received Spring travel grants from the Department of Geological Sciences at Michigan State University. These funds will help students travel to national conferences to present their research findings, or lead workshops on cutting-edge approaches in data collection.

SHELDON TURNER received an award in the 2012 AAAS Student Poster Competition. His entry, The Effectiveness of Visualizations in Communicating Natural Resource Issues, was the winning poster in the Science in Society category. Look for his name in a SCIENCE magazine coming soon!

ROBERT DROST was presented with an honorary membership to the Southwestern Michigan-American Meteorological Society/National Weather Association in appreciation for his invited presentation on tornado warnings in mid-March.

Way to go, lab!

WRITING IN UNDERGRADUATE BIOSCIENCE: New paper published in CBE Life Science Education (2012)

A new paper, coauthored by GRL Director Julie Libarkin and colleague Gabe Ording, documents the impact of writing assignments on student learning. Three writing assignments generated significant change in student ability to write scientifically, although our results suggest that three is an insufficient number to generate complete development of scientific writing skills.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: The Utility of Writing Assignments in Undergraduate Bioscience

The Utility of Writing Assignments in Undergraduate Bioscience

ABSTRACT. We tested the hypothesis that engagement in a few, brief writing assignments in a nonmajors science course can improve student ability to convey critical thought about science. A sample of three papers written by students (n = 30) was coded for presence and accuracy of elements related to scientific writing. Scores for different aspects of scientific writing were significantly correlated, suggesting that students recognized relationships between components of scientific thought. We found that students’ ability to write about science topics and state conclusions based on data improved over the course of three writing assignments, while the abilities to state a hypothesis and draw clear connections between human activities and environmental impacts did not improve. Three writing assignments generated significant change in student ability to write scientifically, although our results suggest that three is an insufficient number to generate complete development of scientific writing skills.

INVISIBLE LIGHT CONCEPTIONS: New paper published in Astronomy Education Review (2011)

A new paper, led by GRL Director Julie Libarkin, documents conceptions of invisible light held by middle and high school students as well as teachers. This paper identifies common issues students have with infrared and ultraviolet radiation, including ideas that persist into adulthood.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: Invisible Misconceptions: Student Understanding of Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation

Invisible Misconceptions: Student Understanding of Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation

ABSTRACT. The importance of nonvisible wavelengths for the study of astronomy suggests that student understanding of nonvisible light is an important consideration in astronomy classrooms. Questionnaires, interviews, and panel discussions were used to investigate 6–12 student and teacher conceptions of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR). Alternative conceptions about the characteristics and human sensual perception of visible light, UV and IR, were observed in many students and in a subset of teachers. Instruction involving electromagnetic radiation should first address preexisting alternative conceptions, and conceptual questionnaires such as the one used here can help teachers to identify student ideas prior to instruction.


GRL scholars have produced two reports related to college students’ conceptions of genetics. The first, led by Sarah Jardeleza, investigates student ideas about the location of genes and DNA in the human body. The second, led by Terri McElhinny, reviews the state of genetics curriculum and assessment in the U.S. and makes suggestions for a next generation Genetics Concept Inventory Suite.


PLATE TECTONICS CONCEPTIONS: New paper published in Journal of Geoscience Education (2011)

A new paper, led by former GRL postdoc Scott Clark (now of University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire), documents conceptions of plate tectonics held by undergraduates. This paper identifies common issues students have with terminology, plate motion, and subsurface melting. The potential for common images to cause misunderstandings is also discussed.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: Alternative Conceptions of Plate Tectonics Held by Nonscience Undergraduates

Alternative Conceptions of Plate Tectonics Held by Nonscience Undergraduates

ABSTRACT. The theory of plate tectonics is the conceptual model through which most dynamic processes on Earth are understood. A solid understanding of the basic tenets of this theory is crucial in developing a scientifically literate public and future geoscientists. The size of plates and scale of tectonic processes are inherently unobservable, necessitating the use of images and models in instruction. To explore plate tectonics conceptions held by undergraduates, we designed and administered a postinstruction survey instrument centered on a common schematic representation of plate tectonics. We report results from a sample of n = 60 nongeoscience majors enrolled in five different introductory Earth-science courses taught at a major research university and a community college. Students held a number of alternative conceptions associated with terminology, plate motion, and plate-related subsurface melting. We also note that some aspects of figures commonly used to teach plate tectonics are problematic for students and may actually result in reinforcement of alternative conceptions. Further work at both the K–12 and college levels directed at innovative approaches to address student conceptions regarding plate tectonics, including designing images that support key scientific messages, is needed. This research can inform curriculum development for entry-level geoscience courses as well as the use of images to convey complex science.

CAPTURING COGNITION: New paper published in Computers & Geosciences (2011)

A new paper, led by GRL graduate student Sheldon Turner, documents the value of Tablet PCs for capturing cognition. This paper documents the unique data sets that Tablet PCs, coupled with video capture technologies, now allow us to collect.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: Novel applications of Tablet PCs to investigate expert cognition in the geosciences

Novel applications of Tablet PCs to investigate expert cognition in the geosciences

ABSTRACT. In this paper, we present new methodologies developed to investigate cognitive processes related to perceiving and interpreting Earth phenomena. This area of study, known as geocognition, is an emerging and vital aspect of geoscience. Geocognition gives geoscientists an understanding of how people conceptualize earth processes. For example, geocognition research can be used to generate effective strategies for increasing public scientific literacy in this new era of climate change and energy crisis. We collected spatial visualization and working memory data using a Camtasia add-on for PowerPoint to generate a unique set of static drawings and videos of the drawing process. Analyzing these data provides unique insight into the underlying cognitive processes. For example, quantitative patterns that emerge within a subpopulation of novices or experts show us the common errors and patterns in how objects are drawn, including drawing order and time spent drawing. We believe that these unique data will contribute to the ongoing efforts to generate new understanding of the nature of geoscientific expertise.

%d bloggers like this: