Geology students benefit from active learning strategies 

When students show up to their Introductory geology class, they likely are expecting a typical lecture format, but Nicole LaDue, assistant professor of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, has something else in store.

With the help of her graduate student, Zo Kreager, the duo is transforming the way Introductory Geology is taught at NIU. Instead of sitting and taking notes from a lecture, the students are immersed in active learning strategies designed to improve learning, motivation and interest in science. LaDue said she’s been pleasantly surprised at the initial results of this new teaching approach, and she and Kreager recently presented their efforts at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.

Students in LaDue’s class using the Predict, Observe, Explain method of inquiry.

Using a method called Predict Observe Explain (POE), LaDue presents students with a scenario and asks them to make a prediction using what limited knowledge they might already have on the topic of the day.

“When you bring something up and apply prior knowledge, you hope they connect the new idea to something they already understand,” LaDue explained.

Once students make their predictions, they engage in an activity involving a video, using a physical model or an online simulation.

Kreager is from Hastings, NE, and is currently a Ph.D. degree student in geology, focusing on geoscience education research.

“I was very excited to present this work at the Geological Society of America conference,” Kreager said. “This project was the first research study I participated in while at NIU. It has given myself and Nicole the opportunity to start to work with each other in a research capacity. It also has provided me the opportunity to learn about classroom design that I can use.”

Kreager said that most of the students in the class are not science majors and this gives them an opportunity to do science as a scientist would do it. It also provides them with the opportunity to work with peers in the class and because of many plan to become educators themselves, it builds their confidence in teaching science in their own classrooms.

LaDue started her career as a high school teacher and her doctoral degree is in discipline-based education research. She began teaching the NIU class in spring 2015 but did not change the format to its present status until last spring.

“Research shows this is the best way to help students learn and because part of my job is to do education research, how can I not do what is best practice?” LaDue said. “These strategies not only engage and help students learn but work best for underrepresented students. Because it’s a general education class and the majority are not going to be science majors, I want to build in them confidence that they can do science.”

LaDue said her research on the teaching method so far has shown significant gains in learning and an interest in science.

“Students saw a stronger connection with their everyday life and felt more capable of doing conceptual problem solving,” she said. “We were surprised by how many gains we saw right away.”

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