Understanding geoscience is among the most relevant challenges of our age. The GEODE project aims to transform geoscience teaching and learning using interactive, geodynamic models designed to explore how plate movements are responsible for most features on Earth's surface. These geodynamic models will be embedded in a set of learning progression-inspired online curricula modules for middle school classrooms.

The Geological Models for Explorations of Dynamic Earth (GEODE) project will contribute to the field’s understanding of how engaging middle school students with dynamic systems models supports their learning of complex Earth science concepts regarding Earth’s surface features and sub-surface processes.

GEODE will develop software that will permit students to “program” a series of geologic events into the model, gather evidence from the emergent phenomena that result from the model, revise the model, and use their models to explain the dynamic mechanisms related to plate motion and associated geologic phenomena such as sedimentation, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and deformation of strata.

GEODE will conduct design-based research to study the development of model-based curriculum modules, assessment instruments, and professional development materials for supporting student learning of (1) plate tectonics and related Earth processes, (2) modeling practices, and (3) uncertainty-infused argumentation practices. The project will also study the types of teacher practices necessary for supporting the use of dynamic computer models of complex phenomena and the use of curriculum that includes an explicit focus on uncertainty-infused argumentation.

Principal Investigators

Amy Pallant
Hee-Sun Lee
Scott P. McDonald

Project Inquiries

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1621176. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

We will research four general areas of student learning and teacher practice:

  1. Students' development of understanding and learning progression
    • How and to what extent does students’ understanding develop through three modules from applying the basics of plate tectonics knowledge to discovering how diverse Earth’s processes and internal forces create Earth’s surface features?
    • How does this development compare with existing plate tectonics learning progression models?
  2. Students' development of modeling practice and learning progression
    • What patterns emerge from students’ modeling practices with geodynamic models?
    • How do the modeling patterns relate to ways in which students describe and explain plate tectonics and associated geological processes that shape Earth’s landforms?
    • How and to what extent do students’ modeling practices develop over three modules?
    • How does the development of students’ modeling practices compare with existing learning progression models?
  3. Students' development of uncertainty-infused argumentation with evidence from modeling and learning progression
    • How do students use evidence generated from models in formulating arguments about geological phenomena?
    • How do students frame uncertainty in accepting or refuting evidence from the models?
    • How does the development of students’ uncertainty-infused argumentation practice compare with existing learning progression models?
  4. Teacher practice
    • What practices are productive in supporting students’ use of dynamic computer models of complex phenomena?
    • What is the repertoire of practices developed by teachers around the use of modeling that include an explicit focus on uncertainty-infused argumentation?

Research Plan

Research will focus on curriculum modules, assessment materials, and professional development materials. Curriculum modules will undergo three design cycles from Year 1 to Year 3; assessment materials will be developed and continuously revised from Year 1 to 3; professional development materials will be outlined in Year 1, developed in Year 2, and used and revised in Years 3 and 4. Year 4 will be a pilot of GEODE software and curriculum modules, as well as supporting professional development materials.

GEODE will offer three modules, intended to be completed in order.

Modules will vary in duration between three and five days and will be designed to be easily interwoven into traditional classroom sequences. Online teacher guides will be developed based on insights from our partner teachers and will include an overview, learning goals, and strategies for integrating and implementing materials in class. In addition, teachers will be supplied with answers to embedded questions and a variety of potential student responses. Each module will be designed around a framing question, a model-based challenge, and uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation.

Module 1: Plate tectonics and geologic processes along plate boundaries

In this module, students spend three days using the plate tectonics software to compare the characteristic distribution of earthquakes, their depth, magnitude, frequency, and location along the different plate types of plate boundaries—convergent, divergent, and transform. Students then explore a 3D visualization of plate boundaries to determine how interactions of the plates result in the emergent pattern of earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountains along the plate boundaries. Students begin to connect the subduction, divergent, and transform boundaries to prominent geologic processes and landforms. This module is critical for framing the ways in which Earth’s landforms are related to how plates move over geologic time.

Module 2: Earth’s dynamic processes creating landforms

In this module students learn how Earth’s surface features can be used to infer the history of a landscape and how specific sequences of Earth’s processes create landforms. Students use the geodynamic modeling software to vary sequences of events to understand how landforms develop, weather, and erode. On the first day students explore the different depositional environments as represented in the model (e.g., deep ocean, continental shelf, and river deposition), and how time affects the thickness of layers. Next, students spend a day exploring volcanic processes to see how intrusions and volcanic activity cross through and move between pre-existing layers. On the third day, students explore erosion represented by rivers or wind and learn about the principles of horizontality and laws of superposition. Students use models to explore how geologic processes are represented in the rock layers. Finally, on the fourth and final day of the module, students are challenged to “program the model” to match real-world examples (photographs); in so doing students explore the interactions of the geologic processes over time, generate questions related to the visualization, and refine their models. When the model and real-world examples do not match, scaffolding will help students take this as evidence that some aspects of the model are incorrect or incomplete. Students will be encouraged to modify, rerun, and re-compare until the model matches the real-world example fairly closely.

Module 3: Internal forces and processes changing Earth’s features

This five-day module enables students to add compression, tension, and uplift stresses on the layers in the geodynamic model. Students spend two days exploring several different processes including folding (deformation of rock), faulting (stresses that result in fracture of rock), uplift (increase in elevation of surface), and subsidence (motion of Earth’s surface as it shifts down). On the third day, as students use the geodynamic model they also focus on how the geologic processes are associated with plate motion and how locations represent very different environments over geologic time. For example, one location may have started in the deep ocean, and as the tectonic plates moved, the location may be part of a collision between plates, which could then uplift the formerly deep-ocean location to the top of a mountain. Finally, on the last two days of the module, students will be challenged to again “program the model” to match more complex real-world examples than in Module 2, and will be asked to explain the events that led to a particular arrangement of layers and then connect them with causal mechanisms (e.g., plate collision causing mountain building, river erosion, etc.).

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