What Do They Bring to the Table? Determining the Logical Thinking Skills of Students Beginning an Earth Science General Education Course

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Conference Proceeding

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In order to develop appropriate learning activities and to structure general education laboratory components to be as effective as possible in developing logical thinking skills specific to science and that promote the building of abstract science concepts, we must have a baseline for what logical thinking skills students bring to introductory science courses. To better understand the skill sets students bring to the table, seven hundred and fifty students in a large enrollment (~75-100 students per section) introductory Earth science course completed the Group Assessment of Logical Thinking (GALT) instrument during their first laboratory class period. The GALT is a two-tier multiple-choice assessment that measures their abilities in six categories of logical thinking: conservation, controlling variables, and probabilistic, correlational, proportional, and combinational reasoning.

Students may take general education courses at any point in their academic careers. We found that there was no relationship between the students' GALT scores and the number of college credits completed at the time they were tested. Clearly, these students were not building their scientific logical-thinking skills in other college courses.

The GALT scores indicate that 31% of the students were concrete logical thinkers, 50% were transitional logical thinkers and 19% were abstract (formal) logical thinkers. On average, they scored lowest in proportional and correlational reasoning skills. Specific geoscience activities such as the comparison of maps of different scales and the comparison of the relative motion of different tectonic plates may build proportional reasoning skills. In addition, engaging students in inquiry-based science activities and allowing them to practice building hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data and presenting conclusions should help them build their abilities in correlational reasoning.


Presented at the 2011 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Paper Number 265-13.

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