Indigenous knowledge in (geo)science education: Toward identity development and practices of respect

This week, Get Real! Science continued the doctoral students’ mini-lessons with Yang, Saliha, and I presenting themes around the cultivation of identity, respect, and indigenous knowledge in science education.  These themes are intrinsic to building equity and expanding the reach of “science knowing” in our (geo)science classrooms.  In an earlier blog addressing “How do we learn (geo)science?” the theory of social constructivism was invoked which places identity within what Sfard and Prusak (2005)describe as the “… complex dialectic between learning and its sociocultural context”.  Respect enters the social constructivist learning environment through actions made toward others’ being, understandings, and values.2  These two themes, and others, prime social constructivism for the integration of indigenous knowledge (henceforth, IK) into (geo)science education!

Indigenous knowledge (IK)

A key constituent of IK is an intimacy with land over some durable timeframe during which narratives about the natural world around indigenous people are passed along the generations.4  IK is not what some might perceive as trial-and-error, but is rather informed  trial-and-error, which Michie (2002) emphasizes from his studies of the Aboriginal People of Australia.5 There are fascinating accounts of indigenous peoples’ experimentation in agriculture and medicine, among others, that are abundant in the literature, including Michie’s work (also see Colin Turnbull’s study of the Mbuti Pygmies in The Forest People, and Louis Sarno’s life with the BaAka Pygmies in the documentary film, Song From the Forest, for many examples of IK in practice, while noting that both of these works have been subject to criticism for ‘caricaturization’, among other ‘offenses’).

Louis Sarno, Ethno-musicologist, lived among the BaAka Pygmies in Central Africa.6

Where IK sits in relation to Western science is a contentious topic — just where does IK fit?  One answer might be that it fits as an additional way of knowing 13 and a way for (geo)science educators to depict science without “hegemonic cultural divides” 7that can appear.  IK is a window into science left primarily outside of the Western canon, but whose branches can be tapped for invaluable resources and deeper insight into the origins and nature of science.4 As you watch the video of Elisabet Sahtouris describing her impressions of IK, consider some of these comments and how you might translate them into your (geo)science curriculum.   I hope the video fills you with wonder, as it has for me, and you are already formulating ways to work on the “third leg of the stool”.8

Indigenous science — Professor Elisabet Sahtouris, evolution biologist, futurist, and author in an excerpt from SAND Anthology Vol. 2., Published on May 18, 2015.8

IK and Western knowledge

The inclusion of IK in curriculum should not be tokenistic or caricaturized, as stressed by some researchers, although this might be a forever elusive ideal.4,9 Returning to the Man in the Maze symbol shown at the beginning of this blog, I have little idea of its authentic history and meaning.  Displaying it might neglect some deeper meaning, or perhaps reduce it to something to be admired for art’s sake.  As educators, we can dig deeper into IK research during our pedagogy and curriculum planning to make these determinations – one way to exercise our practice of respect.2  Just think of the additional learning opportunities this holds for us!

Sami school children. 10

Keane (2008)11and others seeking distinction and commonalities between indigenous and Western ideas of identity, as depicted in the diagram below, contrast these world views12with implications for us to recognize these different and “complicated perceptual fields” through our emerging skills in professional noticing, a skill you’ve hopefully been working on from a previous blog.  For example, perhaps when presenting a geoscience topic, such as earthquakes, your lesson can include aspects from both IK and Western knowledge, and then the “third leg” to serve as a common meeting point in the tension between these two canons, possibly revealing the historical hegemony that often excludes or usurps what IK had sometimes already revealed.4.  But bear in mind that Michie (2002) and others suggest that the best objective might be to “promote consideration of the worldviews, not solely to enrich Western science but to facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge and of cultural understanding”, and what Bang and Medin (2010)13describe as having learners adopt multiple epistemologies of (geo)science.

Indigenous vs. Western knowledge (Modified and adapted from Baker, 2016, citing Nisbett, 2003).14  The Common Ground overlap can be thought of as Sahtouris’ “third leg of the stool”.7

The Third Leg of the Stool8

By now you should be grounded in how (geo)science is learned, the role of language, culture, identity, and argumentation, while developing professional vision in this learning.  As you release the bowlines and sail to your teaching and learning destinations, take the “third leg” idea with you and blend it with identity development and practices of respect so that your (geo)science classrooms become aware of the contributions to science from indigenous ways of knowing as well as the knowing from Western (geo)science.

Building local content into curriculum can help to foster positive identity among your students.10

Making time for professional development in IK can help to map the different ways of knowing, or the “figured worlds”15, needed in pedagogy and curriculum to both educate non-indigenous learners and to foster positive identities for indigenous learners.  Social constructivism is at the heart of our (geo)science education efforts.  Mary Atwater’s (1996)16 work on the role of social constructivism in multicultural science education emphasizes the need for science education researchers to open their worlds to local content and other ways of knowing.

Role-playing activities are great ways to introduce indigenous knowledge into your classroom!10

Moreover, a number of other social constructivists encourage us to “come to grips with the essential issues of culture, power, and discourse in the classroom17, and enter (even if role-playing) a community and its culture to challenge dominant assumptions18that might, in fact, have origins in IK.  Give yourself time to try new approaches to foster positive identity and respect, and to bring in IK into your teaching repertoire!

Indigenous school children. 10

As this marks the last post for the semester, I hope you enjoyed my blog and the content over the past few months inspires you to find new practices to teaching and learning in (geo)science.  Even if this is the end of the trail for my blog, the Get Real! Science blogs continue — keep exploring and learning the latest in reform-based science education from Get Real! Science’s dedicated and caring teaching experts and practitioners who are inspiring students, transforming science classrooms, and improving our public schools every day!  I thank my Get Real! Science cohort for their friendship, and the many learning opportunities and information sharing. And I especially thank Dr. April Luehmann for our excellent course and this blog space, both of which opened my mind to science education reform theories and methodologies — gifts that will be of great importance for the future.

Sami tokenism?  Reflect on your lesson content, and while realizing it may never be free of caricaturization, you will have researched the material to prevent it as much as possible.19

Wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday season!

Ms. D

Additional Resources

Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS)

The Peoples of the World Foundation

Colin Turnbull, Anthropologist — The Forest People

Turnbull, C. M. (1961). The Forest People. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Louis Sarno, Song from the Forest (on Amazon Prime, friends!)

Obert, M., Sarno, L., Bokombe, S. M., & Tondowski Films & Friends. (2015). Song from the forest. Mühlenberge, Germany: Tondowski Films & Friends.

Defining Indigenous Knowledge (Theory of


1Sfard, A., & Prusak, A. (2005). Telling identities:  In search of an analytic tool for investigating learning as a culturally shaped activity.  Educational Researcher, 34, 14-22.

2Slaton, A. & Calabrese Barton, A. (2012) Out of Place: Indigenous Knowledge in the Science Curriculum. In: Fraser B., Tobin K., McRobbie C. (eds) Second International Handbook of Science Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education, vol 24. Springer, Dordrecht.

3Man in the Maze. Retrieved from

4McKinley, E. & Stewart, G. (2012) Out of Place: Indigenous Knowledge in the Science Curriculum. In: Fraser B., Tobin K., McRobbie C. (eds) Second International Handbook of Science Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education, vol 24. Springer, Dordrecht.

5Michie, M. (2002). Why indigenous science should be included in the school science curriculum. Australian Science Teachers Journal, 48(2), 36–41.

6Louis Sarno. Retrieved from…-1040×641.jpg

7Aikenhead, G. S., & Ogawa, M. (2007). Indigenous knowledge and science revisited. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2(3), 539–620.

8Indigenous science, Elisabet Sahtouris —YouTube video.  Retrieved from

9Jocks, C. (1998). Living words and cartoon translation:  Longhouse “texts” and the limitations of English.  In L. A. Grenoble & L. J. Whaley (Eds.), Endangered languages:  Current issues and future prospects(pp. 217-233). Cambridge, England:  Cambridge University Press.

10Indigenous school children. Retrieved from;;;—18.jpg;

11Keane, M. (2008). Science education and worldview. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3(3), 587–613.

12Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional vision. American anthropologist96(3), 606-633.

13Bang, M., & Medin, D. (2010). Cultural processes in science education: Supporting the navigation of multiple epistemologies. Science Education, 94(6), 1008–1026.

14Baker, J. J. (2016). Learning to relate:  An exploration of indigenous science education (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from

15Tan, E., & Barton, A. C. (2008). From peripheral to central, the story of Melanie’s metamorphosis in an urban middle school science class. Science Education, 92(4), 567–590.

16Atwater, M. M. (1996). Social Constructivism : Infusion into the Multicultural Science Education Research Agenda, Journal of Research in Science Teaching33(8), 821–837.

17O’Loughlin, M. (1992). Rethinking science education: Beyond Piagetian constructivism toward a sociocultural model of teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching29(8), 791-820.

18Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educ. Researcher18(1), 32–42.

19Santa and reindeer.  Retrieved from

The post-Thanksgiving food coma blog – see GRS Guest Blog this week!

Howdy Folks!

As we recover from our huge Thanksgiving feasts and begin preparing the annual turkey soup, please get started on the tasks below while taking note of some changes for my blog!

This week’s blog is on the Get Real! Science Guest Blogging page where I have the honor to blog about the topics of Social Justice and Urban Youth After School Science programs. Both of these topics were handily covered by Heather and Sherin in our Doc Student Mini-lesson plans this past week!


See you there!

Ms. D

P.S.  I’ll be monitoring and evaluating your progress on the workout!


Post-Thanksgiving workout



Developing professional vision in (geo)science

Take a closer look at your students today.  Are you noticing the ideas and expressions they share during classroom science discourse and interactions?  I don’t mean just noticing with your eyes, but noticing with your mind and heart to reallysee and reflect upon what the students are saying and doing.  In doing so, you might find essential clues into how your teaching is going, or not. Fret not, because pedagogy and curriculum are always adaptable! **Group sigh of relief ** These ways of noticing your students are what is known as “professional noticing” 1or, the subject of this blog:  having “professional vision” 2,3.  Soooo, what is professional vision?

Professional vision, and related concepts.4

Professional Vision

According to some researchers, professional vision includes the socially-structured ontologies and epistemologies of events prescribed by the norms of a particular group.2 In the (geo)science classroom for instance, professional vision is a way teachers practice “noticing” and actively interpret student science discourse and interactions in order to guide pedagogy and curriculum development.1.3 Among our thought-provoking readings this past week, the Get Real! Science team read and discussed a vivid work from the late Charles Goodwin (1943-2018), a research professor at UCLA who was known as a pioneer in the field of social action research.

Charles Goodwin, UCLA Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture.5

Goodwin (1994) highlights the mechanics of professional noticing through two ethnographic studies of an archaeological field school and legal argumentation during the 1992 trial of Los Angeles police officers charged with the beating of Mr. Rodney King. In this thoughtful work the juxtaposition of the archaeology field work and the legal proceedings of the LAPD trial portrayed the differences and similarities in the social and cognitive professional “shaping” of events within each epistemological domain which consequently determined the practices carried out, their interpretations, and their consequences.2

Examining a well-known geoscience practice:  poring over a Bouma Sequence in turbidites — southern Spain.

This community of practice then, unfolding within what Goodwin describes as “complicated perceptual fields”, reveals how a certain gestalt can take place when these practices are linked to phenomena.  As geoscience educators, we must be aware that our professional vision is largely colored by our profession!

Why is professional vision important in (geo)science education?

Professional vision is important because as Goodwin (2011) notes, it is within this vision where nature becomes culture. Through practices such as accepted coding criteria (e.g., grain size, hardness, texture, and other geoscience classification schemes) nature becomes categorized, and often defined, according to the established community of practice.  This has far reaching consequences such as transforming worldviews on nature and embedding an “intentionality” often mediated through documentation and “best practices”.2

A sandstone ternary diagram depicting Dickinson’s provenance model.6,7

Geoscience students learn about the quartz, feldspar, lithic fragments (QFL) ternary diagram for sandstone in foundational courses.  The poles of the triangle represent the relative proportions of each of these three sandstone framework grain end members in a given sample.

The geologist’s geologist:  William R. Dickinson (1931-2015)8

Dickinson and Suczek (1979)  and Dickinson et al. (1983) suggested using a similar ternary diagram to determine the relationship between the sandstone composition and the tectonic setting of its provenance.9  This classification scheme was contested because not every sandstone neatly plots to its presumed tectonic parent, but considering averages validates this kind of model.9  Dickinson had to break the established paradigm of the time to gain acceptance for his provenance model.  This is not easily done within epistemological domains — after all, we must not forget what happened to poor Alfred Wegener mentioned in an earlier blog.

Professional vision goes well beyond seeing and hearing.10

As geoscience educators, we have the responsibility and privilege to guide our students to “learn with understanding”.1  When we do so, take heed of the professional vision we take, both to be mindful of the communities and objects of knowledge we often take for granted and to be open to new ways of learning that just might make paradigm shifts such as that fulfilled by Bill Dickinson.

How to Manage Professional Vision

In a previous blog we observed the four elements of the Learning Cycle: engage, explore, explain, and apply, as essential experiences for instilling scientific knowledge in our students.11. Explore these and the work structures provided by Cartier et al. (2013) and the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles illustrated by the Ambitious Science Teaching gurus12(see Additional Resources).

It’s time to check your professional vision!

Be sure to check the Get Real! Science cohort blogs, especially Robin’s group blog this week which covers the mini-unit student teaching taking place around Rochester this month.  Be cognizant of each blogger’s professional vision, and note how Robin asks about the best ways to reflect on the sessions for improvement “so that we can make positive changes to our practice and become the best teachers for our students”  Professional vision there, folks!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!13

Ms. D

Additional Resources

Developing Professional Vision

How Geoscientists Think and Learn – Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

Ambitious Science Teaching – Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycles

National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT)


1Choppin, J. (2011). The impact of professional noticing on teachers’ adaptations of challenging tasks. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 13(3), 175-197.

2Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional vision. American anthropologist, 96(3), 606-633.

3Sherin, M., & Van Es, E. A. (2009). Effects of video club participation on teachers’ professional vision. Journal of teacher education, 60(1), 20-37.

4Vision wordle. Retrieved from

5Professor Charles Goodwin, UCLA.  Retrieved from

6Dickinson, W. R., Beard, L. S., Brakenridge, G. R., Erjavec, J. L., Ferguson, R. C., Inman, K. F., Knepp, R. A., Lindberg, F. A., and Ryberg, P. T. (1983).  Provenance of North American Phanerozoic sandstones in relation to tectonic setting.  Geological Society of America Bulletin, 94,222-235.

7Dickinson, W. R., and Suczek, C. A. (1979). Plate tectonics and sandstone compositions.  American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin63, 2164-2182.

8Professor William R. Dickinson.  Retrieved from.

9Boggs, Jr., S. (1987). Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Fourth Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc.

10Helen Keller quote. Retreived from

Spectacles and the Tetons.  Retrieved from

11Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science, NCTM, Reston, VA, (Ch. 3, 45-62).

12Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Ch. 8-9, 151-185).

13Happy Thanksgiving! Retrieved from

The role of argumentation in (geo)science learning

The scientific argument — a critical addition to your toolbox!

When is the last time you had an argument with someone?  I don’t mean the arm flailing, shoes flying kind—but the reasoned argument, where you tried to convince someone of something.  Were you able to collaboratively flesh out consensus on a new, shared meaning?  Did you feel you had sufficient evidence to back up your claims?  Did you feel rattled from the event from being unaccustomed to this kind of exchange?

Plato vs. Playdough.Do take in relative ability prior to engagement in a debate!2

It might be surprising to know that argumentation is important to the advancement of geoscience, and if you are picturing Jimmy Stewart’s famous filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as that argument, it’s definitely time for an update!

Somebody Will  Listen To Me GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The argument of all arguments:  “Someday someone’ll listen to me …..” 3

Recent educational recommendations from the National Research Council4call for more attention toward integrating argumentation in learning to help students better engage in scientific sense-making.4,5  Most of us are not born Masters of Rhetoric, but hooray it can be taught!  By providing requisite structure and scaffolding to guide construction of arguments, your geo-learners will become proficient at the craft of arguing and reasoning to make their case for new knowledge acquisition and production.5 For a well-known method, see the argumentation in science video and Toulmin’s Argumentation Pattern (TAP) in the resources section below.

The argument as “sense-making”5

Just how does an argument lead to sense-making (and not hurt feelings and bruised egos)?  It is believed that scientific sense-making through argumentation iterates through a cyclical process of knowledge construction and knowledge critique producing “chains of reasoning that argue for or explain phenomena”6that eventually are “certified” as knowledge through the peer review process of the particular scientific community.5  Take for instance the oil and gas exploration community, and the practice of building subsurface profiles to predict the location to drill petroleum reservoirs.

The nail-biting process of petroleum well siting.  Strong argumentation practices are critically important in the workforce, and have strong implications for safety and the bottom line … and team harmony! 7

It is common for groups of geoscientists to work together in their pursuit of the elusive trap, with teams often consisting of a geologist, geophysicist, reservoir engineer, well engineer, and even an economist. The group conjures up their best collective scenario and proposed drilling location and predicted volumes of hydrocarbons to present to the exploration management team who vet the lead and critique the proposal and any evidence.  This might take several iterations before the well is approved for drilling.  With such high stakes in terms of safety and financial risk, this approval process requires strong science knowledge and with skilled argumentation you can see this going either way.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster, 2010.  What if strong scientific argumentation had been in place to ensure the well plan had the required practices?8

What if exploration management had weaker argumentation practices than the well team, or the drilling team?  If there is not a safeguard layer of assurance, there might imminent failure!  Indeed, the absence of strong argumentation skills might be among the causes of some of the well-known petroleum accident around the world, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Do you see the value in building argumentation practices among your geoscience students?

How to prepare geoscientists for argumentation in learning

How does one build argumentation practice?  With skilled facilitation, structure, and scaffolding, and providing these in a safe space to teach the situated norms of scientific discourse, build confidence, practice, and eventually proficiency, teachers have immense opportunity to guide their learners to possess strong rhetorical and argumentation practices by building ability in comparing, contrasting, and distinguishing different lines of reasoning. 2,5 You might soon find yourself outpaced once your learners grow wings with their new dialog techniques!

The art of argumentation, build this essential practice into your geoscience curriculum and classes! 9

Last time we learned about building identity among your geoscience learners.  Having meaningful 6experiences in argumentation and critique will enable identity formation as geoscientists even more, especially the important role of serving as a member of a community of geoscience practice such as in petroleum exploration.  Learning these critical techniques, skills and abilities will serve them well throughout life. Something else you might find interesting—internalization of these skills and practices will improve learning in other areas of life as well!

Reason over volume, anytime! 10

Don’t forget to check the Get Real! Science cohort perspectives on argumentation!

Peace out my (geo)scientists working hard on building in argumentation practices to your teaching and learning repertoires — inside and outside of (geo)science!

Ms. D

Additional Resources

Explanation of a Learning Progression for Argumentation in Science—Stanford University

The Premier Online Debate Website

An Historical Debate:  Lincoln vs. Douglas (Take this rewarding trip back in time!)

Toulmin’s Model of Argumentation (slide presentation from Ohio State)



1Plato-Playdough. Retrieved from

2Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to learn in science: The role of collaborative, critical discourse. Science,328, 463-466.

3The Famous Filibuster Scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Retrieved from

4National Research Council. 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

5Ford, M. (2012). A dialogic account of sense-making in scientific argument and reasoning,

Cognition and Instruction, 30(3), 207-245.

6Reiser, B.J., L.K. Berland, and L. Kenyon. 2012. Engaging students in the scientific practices of explanation and argumentation. The Science Teacher 79 (4), 34–39; Science Scope 35 (4), 6–11; Science and Children 49(4), 8–13.

7Well planning team. Retrieved from

8Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Retrieved from

The different identities in (geo)science learning

What does it mean to be a geoscientist?  Have you ever considered what might be your personal geoscience identity?  Do you have more than one identity?  How about your geoscience social identity – and how does this differ from your personal identity?  If you are scratching your head in wonder, fear not, this blog will help you to answer these important questions!  The Get Real! Science team continues to explore science learning and this time we investigated the importance of personal and social identity in learning and living (geo)science.

The Geoscience Identity

What Gee (2003) terms “identity work” means finding those domains in which one acquires new knowledge, skills, and abilities through learning.  For geoscience, this might be knowing how to use a Brunton compass, or how to measure gravity with a gravimeter.  These specific knowledge areas are also known as semiotic domains.  When we master new knowledge, or engage in “meaning-making” 2we can take on an identity as a practitioner, or even an expert in that knowledge.  In geoscience, there are many opportunities, or semiotic domains, of knowledge that learners can acquire as they immerse deeper into their subjects.  As geoscience teachers we can catalyze this identity growth through careful scaffolding of concepts and skills and lots of practice.1  (Think of Michael Jordan’s thousands and thousands of free throws that helped make him an NBA star! )

Someday, when I grow up, I’ll be like him — meeeoww! Dream big little kitty — roaarrrrr!!!!3

With practice, learners can develop confidence in their abilities, inspiring them to travel farther along the path of knowledge. Geoscience handily lends itself to more semiotic domains than you can throw a pebble at!  Field geoscience is a core part of the program and an excellent way to build and hone both personal and social identity.

Formation of a personalidentitythrough geoscience field work — acquiring magnetic data at an archaeological site.  Hmmm… becoming a surveyor, a geophysicist, a magnetist, an archeologist (not really, but considering the different avenues toward semiotic domains to explore further).

Gee (2003) argues that a person must want to embrace the new identity of geoscientist but could encounter conflict with the reigning culture, the scientific content itself, or within themselves.  As a teacher, it is important to be perceptive of these passages into identities through careful and timely monitoring.  And if there are observed conflicts, they must be “repaired” before any deep learning is to be realized.1

Even cows have identities—we must help them repair the conflict and find their semiotic domain!4

The Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) gurus have shared a useful tool to track your learners’ conceptions of where they are in their thinking after you elicit their ideas before beginning a new subject: the Rapid Survey of Student Thinking (RSST) Tool (see link below). 5.    This is one excellent starting point to gauge where your learners are prior to taking on identities and through their navigation into new identities both personally and socially.  Give this a try and develop awareness around the idea of identity in your charges, you might be surprised how transformative this will be in your class!

Identity within a sociocultural community of science

Lest I forget, be sure to honor your own personal identity outside of science, and that of others.  As you read Yang’s beautiful group post about her identity experience with her name, I hope you will find that everyone’s personal identity is important to respect and honor – and hey, why not find out more about your friends’ and colleagues’ personal identities BEYOND their (geo)science identities – your relationships will be so much sweeter!  And this will help to instill a strong sense of community identity among your geoscience learners!

Engagement of social identities among learners exploring similar semiotic domains.  Teachers can make the rounds to observe these enriching “border crossings” 6 (recall from last time) into various identities and make note of any conflicts that need repair or more scaffolding.

A recent workshop at the Science Education Research Center (SERC) at Carleton College held sessions showcasing some strategies for teachers to build their teaching practices to encourage identity development in their students (see link below).  Among these include focused “spotlight” on “real” geoscientists for their learners to identify with them and visualize themselves in a similar role.  If learners can see themselves as geoscientists it just might lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy!  Long-held stereotypes of science identities are being discarded as more kinds of identities enter the science profession,  therefore taking a sociocultural perspective in your lesson planning will go a long way toward authentically examining the various factors that limited identity development in the sciences.7

Formation of a socialidentitythrough collaborative geoscience field work — acquiring seismic data together and developing intragroup reliance on the survey running correctly and smoothly.  Plus, it’s so much more fun among geo-friends, dancing to the rhythm of surveying!

There are power dynamics behind knowledge that, as a teacher, you can circumnavigate to find ways to challenge unhealthy and unjust norms and conventions.8  As mentioned in a previous blog, invite geoscientists to your classroom, selecting a range of individuals who might bring out the identities amongst your learners (see links to geoscience associations for black and women geoscientists), and ensure your guest makes time to discuss their own identity development and the social identities they have formed.  It might be worthwhile to have these experts share experiences about barriers they had to cross to form their identities, as some are hard won!   Another idea is to take your charges outside of the school walls and meet real geoscientists where they work, be it the office (ho hum!) or the field (Yee haa! Where are my hiking boots?), trust me, it will be leave a stronger impression than reading about real geoscientists!


The magnificent Neil de Grasse Tyson:  American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator extraordinaire.  Consider what might be his many personal identities and social identities as a human and a scientist, and author.9 

What can teachers do to foster (geo)science identity development?

As teachers, we hold immense opportunity in facilitating strong identity development among our learning communities.  From the pedagogy and curriculum we employ to the cultural landscape we foster in the classroom; skillful facilitation can build and nurture learners’ personal and social geoscience identity.  One way to do this is to make use of a Learning Cycle that represents scientific inquiry, as proposed by Cartier, Smith, Stein, & Ross (2013) and which is composed of the four elements:  engage, explore, explain, and apply.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to engage, explore, explain, and apply 2we go! Field work is a great way to build geoscience identities!

Cartier and colleagues (2013) align these four elements with the eight Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  The Learning Cycle employed to its highest potential will cultivate mastery in the geoscience semiotic domain1and before you know it, your learners will begin to see themselves as budding geoscientists! And should these practices continue throughout their formation, their identities will become even stronger and by then, well, they will be mentoring the next generation of geoscientists!  Be sure to visit my cohort blogs this week to see more Get Real! Science perspectives on (geo)science identities!

Peace out my (geo)scientists working hard on your identities, your social identities, and those of others!

Ms. D

Additional Resources

Ambitious Science Teaching — Rapid Survey of Student Thinking (RSST) Tool

Science Identity — Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative (XSci)

 “Develop Students’ Science Identity”

The Science Education Research Center (SERC) — Carleton College

National Association for Black Geoscientists

Association for Women Geoscientists


1Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. (Chapter 3 – Learning and Identity:  What does it mean to be a half-elf? p. 51-71.)

2Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science, NCTM, Reston, VA, (Ch. 3, 45-62).

3Kitty Lion. Retrieved from

4Identity Crisis Cow. Sebastien Millon.  Retrieved from

5Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Ch. 8-9, 151-185).

6Aikenhead, G. S. (1996). Science education: Border crossing into the subculture of science. Studies in Science Education, 27, 1-52.

7Lemke, J. L. (2001). Articulating communities: Sociocultural perspectives on science education.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(3), 296-316.

8Nasir, N. S., Hand, V., & Taylor, E. V. (2008). Culture and mathematics in school: Boundaries between “cultural” and “domain” knowledge in the mathematics classroom and beyond. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 187-240.

9Neil de Grasse Tyson.  Retrieved from

How does culture influence (geo)science learning?

Consider your (geo)science classroom.  Take stock of the cultural diversity among your learners.  Which subgroups and subcultures are present?  If you aren’t sure about these, then you might be missing out on ways to enrich science learning and getting to really know your students!  Culture includes the “norms, values, beliefs, expectations and conventional actions of a group”1 and subgroups include race, language, ethnicity, gender, social class, occupation and religion, etc., while subcultures are divisions within a subgroup, such as a particular gender, or your science classroom.1  When there is a boundary separating the student from fully engaging in science class or within their peer group, researchers1refer to this as a “border”; and when students are unable or unwilling to cross these subculture borders what is a teacher to do?

A reflective discussion in geology field training, and a group of many cultures, subgroups, and subcultures. Consider this – is everyone fully engaged or are there any cultural barriers?

As much as possible, taking account of these cultures, subgroups and subcultures prior to your lessons will create what is describes as “instructional congruence”2which, when present, will transform your geoscience classes to be accessible, meaningful and relevant for all students.  There are many ways to discover these cultural differences and become aware of observable cultural borders and “border crossings”. The unobservable crossings are more challenging but might be unearthed through conversations with your students.1

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

We are all part of culture, subgroups, and subcultures!  What are yours?

Provide culturally sustained support for the introduction of new ideas, activity, and “sense making”

As we continue our study of Ambitious Science Teaching (AST)4 we encounter the notion of culturally sustained support, or what is referred to as “culturally sustained pedagogy (CSP)” which supports plurality in the learning and teaching milieu.  This pedagogy adapts to the cultures and groups present and provides a route of entry to learning that might not otherwise be present. This goes against the traditional grain that has long promoted of assimilation into the dominant cultural power.5  But who wants to be assimilated?  Not us! A convenient way to effectively address culture in your classroom might be to employ three core practices:4  1) Introduce new ideas to spark interest in a topic (for example, introduction to the rock cycle; 2) Engage the students in activity and sense making (try to find an analogous process to illustrate the generation and transformation of rock material); and 3) Engage in collective thinking through reflective exercises in the peer group (discuss what happens in each stage of the rock cycle in small groups and compare with the greater group). If the ages of rock are considered during the exercise, there might be conflicting religious beliefs.

The rock cycle6 – might have opposing or incompatible cultural interpretations.  How will you manage this in your geology class?

As it becomes apparent among your learners that there are opposing worldviews, or perhaps those incompatible with science, in the discussion, what will you do?  Adhering to instructional congruence will require vigilance to detect border crossings or “would be” border crossings.  Some researcherssuggest making charts to keep track of “where students are” to both anticipate and monitor lessons and observe the cultural border crossings that might be derived from the lesson content, practices and teacher/peer interactions.  Respectfully guiding your geoscientists toward sense making of the scientific world view, while at the same time acknowledging alternative views (e.g., religious beliefs), is the mark of a considerate and skilled teacher.2

The dialectical model of scientific inquiry and community

A dialectical modelis where dialogue among members of a community of practice results in coproduction of scientific knowledge.9  Savvy classroom instruction will include anticipation and monitoring of these dialectical moments to ensure the learning objectives are complete and correct, to meet the challenges addressed and to keep the group on course.7 This can be done a number of fashions, but an easy way to do this is the “moving among the tables” strategy in which you approach a group and 1) listen first; 2) press and point to probe thinking; 3) follow up with questions; 4) ensure everyone is included; 5) prepare for later share-out; and 6) pose the “leaving” questions which are posed after you leave to visit the next small group discussion.4

The cultural border crossings10 in the classroom don’t have long lines – huzzah!

As you read through the Get Real! Science cohort blogs be sure to review the Sam’s group blog for this week and his account of the group “Activity Summary Table” – an exercise such as this is a good way to explore your students’ culture and border crossings! What techniques will you try in your classrooms?  Be mindful of culture and watch your students grow as geoscientists, and people!

Peace out my culturally-aware and culturally-sensitive (geo)science enthusiasts!

Ms. D

Additional Resources

American Association for the Advancement of Science—Project 2061. Retrieved from

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in the Literacy Classroom. Retrieved from


1Aikenhead, G. S. (1996). Science education: Border crossing into the subculture of science. Studies in Science Education, 27, 1-52.

2Lee, O., & Fradd, S. H. (1998). Science for all, including students from non-English-language backgrounds. Educational researcher, 27(4), 12-21.

3Benny Hill Laughing. Retrieved from

4Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Ch. 8-9, 151-185).

5Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2014) What are we seeking to sustain through a culturally sustaining pedagogy?  A loving critique forward.  Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85-100.

6The Rock Cycle.  The Geological Society of London. Retrieved from

7Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science, NCTM, Reston, VA, (Ch. 3, 45-62).

8Pera, M. (1994). The Discourses of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

9Magnusson, S. J., Sullivan-Palincsar, A., & Templin, M. (2004). Community, culture, and conversation in inquiry- based science instruction. In L. B. Flick & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Scientific inquiry and nature of science : Implications for teaching, learning, and teacher education: Boston, 131-155.

10USA-Canadian border. Retrieved from

Can’t we just make students learn (geo)science?

The topic, “Can’t we just make students learn (geo)science”?  was on our Get Real! Science agenda recently.   Can we really makestudents learn?  Even if this sounds draconian, it’s a realistic view of how education used to be, and still remains at times.  Does the below scene bring back any classroom memories?

The perils of lecturing at your students ….  Sleepy or unmotivated students?1

We are learning in modern education that creating the conditions for student self-determination, or giving them a say in their activities, enhances learning.2,3  Have a look at the video below that features University of Rochester’s own Edward Deci, and his take on how to generate intrinsic motivation.  Think about how you might change your classroom practices to foster this in your students!

Generate Intrinsic Motivation Video – Edward Deci 4

Create a learning environment of Productive Disciplinary Engagement

If you are feeling uncertain abouthowto motivate learning in your young geoscientists, check out productive disciplinary engagement (PDE)!  You can facilitate your learners to engage in productive discourse through four principles: 1) encourage students to problematize; 2) allow them authority to address the problem; 3) ensure their work is accountable to others and to geoscience norms; and 4) provide them with adequate resources to accomplish PDE!5,6    There are abundant opportunities in geoscience lectures and labs to facilitate PDE! The figure below shows the recursive role PDE can play in bringing out deeper levels of motivation in learners. Give this a try!

The recursive power of Productive Disciplinary Engagement.5

Work to promote positive youth development and watch initiative grow!

How well do you know your students?  What have you learned about their backgrounds, personal interests and beliefs?  If you have not ventured out of your teaching world and into your students’ world, you have work to do!  There is a lot to be tapped from our geo-learners and what’s cool is, what you tap can be a strong way to improve their learning so they will feel as if they are a partof it and not an objectof it.  The education world has made the realization that learners own prior knowledge is essential to increasing cognition.7   Check out Youth Power in the Additional Resources area and find out more about ways to engage your geo-learners!

Fostering healthy, productive and engaged youth for a positive youth development.8  Four pillars shown here can lend ideas for your teaching practice – why not start now?

Making students learn geoscience will create students with low motivation and diminished creativity, which over time, will limit the geoscience field itself!  Step away from the front of the classroom sometimes and sit among your students and learn about and from them.  Engage them in sharing their beliefs and experiences, create time and space for peer discourse.  Facilitating learning through environments of PDE and promoting positive youth development will ensure a new generation of empowered, motivated, and innovative geoscientists!  Better geoscientists.

Don’t miss my cohort blogs this time, especially Ellie’s Get Real! Science group blog this week.  She shares the importance of community and links this to motivation with one of the sweetest gestures of all time – our impromptu group Canadian Thanksgiving feast held to ensure our friend and classmate did not miss this special occasion, even if her car would not cooperate!

Peace out my self-determined (geo)science enthusiasts!

Ms. D

Additional Resources

Self-Determination Theory Website.  Retrieved from

Youth Power – U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)


1Sipress, D.  The New Yorker Cartoons.  Retrieved from

2Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford.

3Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.

4Bilyeu, T. (2017, May 14). Generate Intrinsic Motivation – Edward Deci [Video File]. Retrieved from

5Meyer, X. (2013). Productive disciplinary engagement as a recursive process: Initial engagement in a scientific investigation as a resource for deeper engagement in the scientific discipline, International Journal of Educational Research, 64, 184-198.

6Engle, R. A. & Conant, F. R. (2002). Guiding principles for fostering productive disciplinary engagement: Explaining an emergent argument in a community of learners’ classroom. Cognition and Instruction, 20(4), 399-483.

7Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist 55, 170-183.

8Youth Power – U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  Healthy, productive and engaged youth.  Retrieved from

How does language mediate (geo)science learning?

This post continues along the red thread of learning that Get Real! Science is stitching through the semester, and examines the role of language in (geo)science learning.  We saw last time the social constructivist approach to learning taking place within the social milieu, where influences of culture, power, and discourse are everpresent.1  Discourse is highlighted this time and we’ll take a deeper look into how language can be a powerful mediator in learning science.  Language factors from both the teaching and learning side play a critical role in all science education settings.  They are also a central part of the National Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) science practices established with aim to elicit students’ voices into communicating (geo)science by asking questions, and engaging in constructive critique and debates in their learning environments.2

Accuracy vs. precision. Which kind of dart player are you? 3

High Cognitive Geoscience Communication —Measurement Uncertainty

One way to spark productive discourse among geoscience students is to engage them in the topic of measurement uncertainty.  All measurements have some degree of error and uncertainty as we saw from the previous blog that showcased Earth’s estimated crustal thickness—but why is it important that we communicate the error and uncertainty?  Error gives us an idea of how closely a measurement agrees with the true value (accuracy), while uncertainty gives us information about the interval around a measurement for which repeated measurements will fall (precision).3 As geoscience is rich in measurements, instilling skills in uncertainty evaluation will allow geoscience learners to engage in high cognitive activitiesthat also afford the important skills of accountability and ethics in geoscience communication.

Equitable Geoscience Communication — Sociocultural and Power Dynamics

The wordogramabove rounds up some topics relating to the role of language in science education.  It’s important to understand that it is not just the language of science that factors into learning, it is also the sociocultural identity, power dynamics, and access relating to language that must be reckoned with if we are to provide equitable science education for ALL students.  It might surprise you to know that some students are hesitant to engage in science classes if they feel that participation might create unwanted or scary identity shifts.5  

Mary Anning,a “Hidden Paleontologist” who would never know her contribution to the geoscience canon.

Introducing a variety of historical figures in geoscience can help students understand the many contributions to geoscience from a variety of demographics.  This is a scaffolding technique to help the learner believe they too can be part of the community.  One of the most famous female geologists in history is Mary Anning (1799-1847).  Like Alfred Wegener mentioned in an earlier post, Anning did not receive much professional credit until long after her death. Indeed, throughout her life she made many contributions to the paleontology field, but was often marginalized because of her gender.6  We can no longer afford to quiet the voices of scientists that do not fit preconceived norms.  Imagine how it might have been different for Anning had she been allowed to communicate and be a valued member of her geoscience community—NOT only posthumously!

All jokes aside, be prepared for many different language interpretations in the classroom! 8

Eliciting  Geoscience Communication — Ambitious Science Teaching7

Getting our students to fling the doors wide and openly communicate in the language of science is no easy task.  The Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) framework includes a “toolkit” for educators to align language and learning to stimulate participation, strengthen reasoning skills, and facilitate more student participation in science discourse7—check out the link below for more!

Ambitious Science Teaching has ideas for small-group work and peer discussions for students to get used to the various roles in scientific discourse [e.g., Big Ideas person, the clarifier, the questioner, the skeptic (there’s always a skeptic!), progress monitor, and floor manager].7,9

Check your students’ reactions to your teaching activities, observe who participates and who does not.  As your classroom demographics change, so will your language and their language.  Research suggests that linguistic barriers may be present for ethnic minorities in science discourse which is sometimes framed or perceived from different social or political reference points.7  As science educators, it is our role to remove these barriers by not only being mindful of curriculum and lecture content, but how the content is transmitted and interpreted through language.  To reach ALL students educators can establish classroom norms, routines, and scaffolding to move beyond any inhibitions the students might have that prevent them from participating in geoscience so that they too may join the group discourse in a safe and productive environment.7  How will you adapt language factors to enhance geoscience learning in your classroom?

Additional Resources

Ambitious Science Teaching

US Department of Education — Equity of Opportunity

Next Generation Science Standards — Standards for All Students.

The National Academies of Sciences — Appendix D:  “All Standards, All Students”.  Retrieved from


1O’Loughlin, M. (1992). Rethinking science education: Beyond Piagetian constructivism toward a sociocultural model of teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching29(8), 791-820.

2Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science, NCTM, Reston, VA, (pp1-18).

3Uncertainty and Statistics.  Retrieved from

4Language in the Real World.  Retrieved from

5Brown, B. A. (2006). “It isn’t no slang that can be said about this stuff”: Language, identity, and appropriating science discourse. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(1), 96-126.

6Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know.  Retrieved from

7Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.

8Potty Language.  Retrieved from

9Wildwood IB World Magnet School. Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student-Driven Questions.  Retrieved from


How do we learn (geo)science?

This week, Get Real! Science pondered a question posed by many an educator:  How do we learn (geo)science?  There are plenty of learning theories about, but traditional science education often excludes the sociocultural influences and learning contexts that students bring to the classroom.  To address this, Get Real! Science contemplated the “social constructivism” paradigm that emerged in the 1980s as an extension from Jean Piaget’s (1896-1980) Constructivist Theory of Knowing.  When you learn more about social constructivism, my hope is you will give it a try in your classrooms and share tips and practices with your colleagues!

Constructivism is an ontological learning theory in which learning is “constructed” from an individual’s a priori knowledge and then adapted to form an a posteriori judgement1.  A learner will start from their own knowledge base when taking in new information.  Piaget’s theory suggests there is a dialectical balance between intellectual assimilation and accommodation that eventually equilibrates through a cognitive process that takes place when a learner confronts new knowledge.2  Constructivism primarily considers the individual learner though, and misses key sociocultural facets in learning.  Happily, Social constructivism in science education includes the conditions under which the learner assesses knowledge in sociocultural frames of reference including engagement in collaborative interactions with others and within situated apprenticeships2,5.

The Father of Constructivist Theory:  Jean William Fritz Piaget (1896-1980).4


Social Constructivism in Geoscience Education

Geoscience education can benefit from a social constructivist approach to learning, and happens to be highly conducive to this method thanks to the ubiquitous presence of geoscience around us and its inherent social dimensions.  We can all relate with Earth, right?  As promised last time, I will illustrate this social constructivist approach through the topic of Earth modeling from last time.  But what on Earth is modeling?

Modeling is a good way to introduce social constructivist teaching and learning in geoscience learning environments. Now, modeling has a number of meanings and two of them are presented here.  The first meaning of modeling is through situated cognitive apprenticeships that enculturate learners into “communities of knowledge”, such as within the geoscience professional community of geophysics.5  Geophysics is the science of Earth and other celestial bodies which includes seismology, electrical, magnetic, and gravity methods, to name but a few.  Teachers can create these apprenticeship experiences with their students through facilitation of student empowerment in their own learning.  A guest  geophysicist’s visit to your classroom will provide a living, breathing model from the profession who might share research, personal photos, videos, and other geophysics props to Get Real! and bring the profession alive!  Would this not be better than a dry lecture that lulls us to sleep?  If a geophysicist is not available, the teacher may facilitate student role play to channel what a geophysicist might do when solving Earth science problems.

One of my favorite geologists (left) with apprentice, modeling his profession and drawing a model (note the two different definitions of model!) of southern Spain geology, while perhaps unknowingly demonstrating social constructivism!  P.S.  His wife knitted the colorful “field” hat he is wearing!

The second type of modeling is the geoscience model itself!  Recall the crustal thickness map presented last week, along with the globe depicting the principal layers of Earth.  Both of these are models of Earth structure created by geoscientists to make meaning out of observed phenomena and to share with the public—models from which learners may deduce results to make decisions (e.g.,  Hmmm … the thin crust in the Western USA might indicate higher heat flow near Earth’s surface and a potential site for geothermal power plants — hint:  it is already!).  Furthermore, models can be compared with other models to help students engage in Piaget’s cognitive equilibration to construct deeper meaning.  Can you find another Earth model like the one from last week that might include more than the prinicipal Earth layers?  With creative thinking there are many ways for teachers to use models such as these in social constructivist educational settings!  What techniques and considerations might YOU take into account with YOUR students?

Geology Book Shelves by Chris Slane.6

Not quite like the book shelves, but you get the picture!  Fault rocks in Norway. 7

A large part of geoscience involves the use of models that attempt to characterize or portray phenomena such as the model crustal thickness map of Earth shown last week.  We concede there is great uncertainty in the model, of course, but assuming the gravity measurements and inversion methods were performed assiduously, the map still gives us a useful idea of crustal thickness which happens to generally corroborate what we already suppose about Earth structure and tectonics.  Does the model represent the exact crustal thickness of Earth?  Of course not!  But it doesn’t have to, nor can it—we simply must settle for an approximation.

Development of an understanding in model uncertainty is essential to cultivate in geoscience teaching.  Geoscience communication includes establishing the limits of certainty when presenting models, but sometimes this goes wrong, and when it happens, public trust can be lost.  The next blog will go over the “language of science” as our Get Real! Science team discovers how language mediates science learning and I’ll take it a step farther to go over communicating uncertainty in geoscience.

Before you go, have a look at the famous quote below by George E. P. Box.  With this in mind as this week’s blog ends, consider that as geoscience educators, we hold great responsibility for our students’ learning and knowing. By engaging in social constructivist practices we can create meaningful learning experiences to prepare our students for amazing futures!  And don’t forget—it behooves us to exercise caution when being and using models in instruction.  Be sure to read my Get Real! Science cohort blogs this week to gain even more insight on happenings this week!  Peace out, geoscience enthusiasts!

Ms. D

  Exercise caution when observing models!   George E. P. Box.8


Some resources for geoscience models and open access journals of geoscience follow:

British Geological Survey—Open Geoscience Data Models:

Geosciences—Open Access Journal:

Journal of Geology & Geophysics—Open Access Journal:


1Lorsbach, A., & Tobin, K. (1992). Constructivism as a referent for science teaching. NARST Newsletter, 30, 5-7.

2O’Loughlin, M. (1992). Rethinking science education: Beyond Piagetian constructivism toward a sociocultural model of teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(8), 791-820.

3Atwater, M. M. (1996). Social Constructivism : Infusion into the Multicultural Science Education Research Agenda, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33(8), 821–837.

4Jean William Fritz Piaget.  Retrieved from

5Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educ. Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.

6Chris Slane.  Geology Book Shelves. Retrieved from

7Koehl, Jean-Baptiste. (2013). Late Paleozoic-Cenozoic fault correlation and characterization of fault rocks in western Troms, North Norway GEO-3900 Master’s Thesis in Geology.

8George E. P. Box.  “All models are wrong, but some are useful”.  Retrieved from

What is science? What is geoscience?

The Get Real! Science team grappled with the first question in the past week, learning that there are more than a few ways to define this subject that forms the basis of our work as science educators.  The National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (1996) describe science as “a way of coming to understand the world in which we live”.   Chiappetta &  Koballa (2010) carry this description further by pointing out science’s distinction from other knowing disciplines because “it has standards and practices that generate ideas to explain phenomena and to predict outcomes”.

Now that we better understand what science is, what is geoscience?  Geoscience is the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary study of Earth, including its atmosphere and oceans. A recent article in a geoscience journal depicts a problem long studied in the geosciences: the Earth’s crustal thickness.  Below is a model showing the principal layers of Earth, and as you can see, the crust is the thin layer on the surface, underlain by the mantle and core.

Image:  Ed Garnero, Arizona State University. Simple Earth.

We live on Earth’s crust!  Knowing the thickness of the crust is useful for a great many geoscience observations such as determining the location of mountain belts and ocean depths, assessing geohazards, and engaging in natural resource exploration and management (Alvey et al., 2018).

Yin + Yangster by Laura Yang. Earth’s Crust.

Over many decades of research, there have been numerous interpretations of crustal thickness on Earth.  With progress in the geoscience epistemology and new and improved technology, geoscientists are getting closer to making more accurate characterizations of the global distribution of crustal thickness.  The map below depicts crustal thickness for both the continents and oceans as derived from gravity studies.  The shaded relief represents the gravity anomalies and note how these reveal tectonic features (Alvey et al., 2018).  What are gravity anomalies?  How can gravity anomalies tell us about crustal thickness?   What is the rough average thickness for continental crust?  How about oceanic crust?  Next time, I will go over Earth modeling and how geoscientists use models, such as the one below, to represent phenomena.

From Alvey et al. (2018). Global map of crustal thickness derived by gravity inversion (OCTek).  The Gulf of Mexico and Indian Ocean regions are in the boxed areas. Note the very thick crust of the Tibetan Plateau and the very thin crust in the ocean basins.

This is part of the East African Rift System in Djibouti, Africa.  Rift zones are associated with areas of thin crust.  Can you find any of these zones in the global map above?

The crustal thickness study is an important part of the geoscience field of tectonics.  There is a long and fascinating history of plate tectonics!  Shown below is Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist who is considered to be the “Father of plate tectonics” after his 1912 hypothesis suggested at one time the continents were joined into a “supercontinent” called Pangaea which broke into continental plates that drifted apart about 200 million years ago (they are still drifting).  Wegener deduced this “continental drift” from observations of fossil and rock formation similarities between the continents where their coastlines matched.  This hypothesis was vexing to most geoscientists of the day who believed the continents were not able to move laterally.  Wegener faced rejection and even ostracization from many of his colleagues and, sadly, he was never to know his theory of continental drift led to the mid-1960s  acceptance of plate tectonic theory and its revolutionary influence upon geoscience.

Alfred Lothar Wegener—never to know he would become the “Father of plate tectonics”.  But his haute couture and pipe might have been enough for him!  Photo by Mary Evans Picture Library.

As this week’s class blogger, Alyssa, mentions, we had a most interesting visit from a professor of Environmental Conservation and Horticulture at Finger Lakes Community College:  Dr. John VanNiel.  Dr. VanNiel demonstrated a creative way of teaching us about our New York fauna by building on what we know (or thought we knew) and steering us from observation to inferences toward what is known (or thought to be known); for scientific knowledge is always “tentative” (Chiappetta & Koballa, 2010).  As budding educators, we are learning how to teach science (next week’s blog topic!) and Dr. VanNiel’s approach to engage of all of us in science inquiry methods made for a memorable and fun class.  He helped us to find our own way to “understand the world in which we live” (National Research Council, 1996)

Next week, our Get Real! Science team digs deeper into how one learns (geo)science.  Until then, be sure to browse through my cohort blogs to examine their views on “What is Science?” this week too!

Below are some links to some of the preeminent geoscience organizations, have a look and see if you can answer the questions posed in this blog by next time!  Peace out!

American Geosciences Institute:

The Geological Society of America:

American Geophysical Union:


Alfred Lothar Wegener.  Photo by Mary Evans Picture Library. Retrieved from

Alvey, A., Roberts, A., & Kusznir, N. (2018) What is the thickness of Earth’s crust?  Geoscientist. 28(7), 10-15.

Chiappetta, E.L. & Koballa, T.R. (2010). The nature of science. In Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools, 100-108, Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Ed Garnero, Arizona State University. Simple Earth. Retrieved from

National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

Yin + Yangster by Laura Yang. Earth’s Crust. Retrieved from