Providing Students with Foundational Field Instruction within a 50 Minute Class Period: A Practical Example

Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:10 PM
Madelyn Percy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, United States
There is a growing recognition among secondary educators and administrators that students need to have a science education that provides connections between familiar classes like biology, chemistry, and physics. Because of this waxing interest in an integrative approach to the sciences, there is a broader push for school districts to offer classes geared towards the earth sciences, a field that incorporates knowledge and skills gleaned from the three core science subjects. Within the contexts of a regular secondary school day on a traditional schedule (45- to 50-minute long classes), it is challenging to engage students in rigorous field-based learning, critical for students to develop a deeper understanding of geosciences content, without requiring extra time outside of the regular schedule. We suggest instruction using common, manmade features like drainage retention ponds to model good field practices and provide students with the opportunity to calculate basic hydrologic budgets, take pH readings, and, if in an area with seasonal rainfall, make observations regarding soils by way of trenching, and near-surface processes, including mass wasting and the effects of vegetation on geomorphology. Gains in student understanding are discussed by analyzing the difference in test scores between exams provided to the students after they had received only in-class instruction, and after they had received field instruction in addition to the in-class lectures. In an advanced setting, students made measurements regarding ion contents and pollution that allowed the classes to practice lab skills while developing a data set that was analyzed after field work was completed. It is posited that similar fieldwork could be an effective approach at an introductory level in post-secondary institutions.