PROBLEM BASED LEARNING: OBSERVING THE EARTH
Paul J. Croft, Kean Univ., Union, NJ
Undergraduate non-science majors are required to complete one lecture course within the science curriculum at most universities. Many of these students dislike or are not interested in science and many also wait until their final academic year (or semester) before completing this portion of their core curriculum. In order for students to meet this requirement, the Department of Geology and Meteorology at Kean University offers a variety of courses including – “Observing the Earth” – so that students may satisfy their graduation requirements. The course, through the scientific investigative process, provides an overview of content on astronomical, geologic, atmospheric, and hydrosphere information and principles. However, the very limited and brief exposure to science, including the scientific thought process, limits the development of their scientific literacy. The lack of a laboratory component, critical to the synthesis of these aspects, must therefore be provided in some other manner. To provide these, the author made use of the problem based learning (PBL) approach throughout the course (lecture and assignments) to enhance student comprehension and retention of course content as well as to apply these to real situations to help students develop their synthesis abilities.
This was accomplished primarily through the use of the 2004 tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia as a focal point for a culminating group project assignment for the course. This project helped to illustrate the complexity of the geosphere system, particularly when the biosphere is involved, and provided them an opportunity to apply the scientific thought process, science principles, and consider an environmental context with regard to biosphere systems and related issues (e.g., socio-economic, political, cultural, and others). Prior to the project work, students were provided course content and additional written materials for response and reaction as part of their regular course assignments during the first half of the semester. These required critical reading (e.g., good versus bad science), analytic examinations (e.g., observation, hypothesis, and theory), and relation of course content to real-world situations and problems (e.g., natural resources, geosphere interactions, and human responses to and impacts on the geosphere). In addition, groups of students also completed “Earth Team” presentations to hone their skills in applying principles of science through scientific thought and process to build scientific literacy among all of their classmates in the topics of astronomy, geology, hydrology, and meteorology as related to the biosphere and its systems.
Laboratory experiences were provided by engaging students in class discussions and problem-solving to understand select concepts (e.g., the big bang theory, geocentric versus heliocentric, minerals classification, principles of geologic time, plate tectonic theory). Each of these forced students to consider situations outside of their own experiences and to see the role of both human and instrumental observations. This provided insight as well as to the significance of technology and remote sensing techniques to scientific investigations. Student reaction was positive and their ability to synthesize and apply scientific thought was improved.
Extended Abstract (24K)
Poster Session 1, Educational Initiatives
Sunday, 29 January 2006, 5:30 PM-7:00 PM, Exhibit Hall A2
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