ED43B-0729: Teaching About Rates and Time: Challenges and Resources

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Authors: Carol J Ormand1, Cathryn A Manduca1, Steven C Semken2, Erica Crespi3

Author Institutions: 1. Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN, USA; 2. School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA; 3. School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA

An understanding of geologic time is fundamental for all students in geoscience courses. Determining the rates of geoscience processes and dates of key events lie at the heart of much of geoscience research. Concepts associated with how geoscientists determine rates and dates are difficult for students to learn and challenging for instructors to teach. Further, intellectual grounding in the magnitudes of Deep Time may provide a foundation for understanding large magnitudes in other contexts, including astrophysics, evolutionary biology, and economics. In February, 2012, an NSF-funded ‘On the Cutting Edge’ workshop brought together 32 geoscience faculty, education and cognitive science researchers, and faculty from other STEM disciplines to develop an understanding of the cognitive challenges in learning temporal concepts and to share successful strategies for teaching about rates and time. Workshop participants developed a robust set of online resources for faculty teaching about rates and time, including web pages about learning goals for our students, assessing student learning about time, what research tells us about using analogies to teach about time, and teaching about geochronology. Each participant also contributed to SERC’s online collections of courses, teaching activities, visualizations, and other instructional resources for teaching temporal concepts. Workshop participants concluded that understanding geologic time and rates is essential, not only for geoscientists, but also for scientists in other disciplines, such as biology and astronomy, and generally for citizens of the planet. Moreover, assessment of student understanding of temporal concepts is challenging, but essential. Participants also discussed the cognitive challenges involved in understanding geologic time and strategies for overcoming these challenges. While there has not been much research on best practices in teaching about Deep Time, there are many promising strategies taken from cognitive science research on how students perceive and retain temporal information at conventional time scales and from research on the use of analogies in learning. A detailed synthesis of key ideas from the workshop and the instructional resources described above are available on the ‘Cutting Edge’ Rates and Time website.