Assessing Students’ Earth History Misconceptions Within an Introductory Geology Course

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Conference Proceeding

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Assessing misconceptions within introductory geology courses can be difficult because they often go unidentified. Philips (1991) suggested that commonly held geology misconceptions should be identified before instruction is begun. In this study we gave students a 15 item pre- and post-test, generated with the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI; Libarkin & Anderson, 2005), with the hope to assess Earth history misconceptions that they have entering the introductory geology course at a mid-size public university in the Southeast United States. This test is also used to measure students' learning gains within geology; however, these results will be presented at another time. Initial results of 51 students are below.

GCI question 7 was used to assess what the students' believed the Earth looked like when it first formed. On the pre-test 20% (d value = 0.29) of the students could answer this question correctly; however, 55% of the students thought Pangaea was correct. After instruction, 39% (d value = 0.51) of the students answered this question correctly; yet, 45% of the students still thought Pangaea was correct. GCI question 28 was used to assess the students' misconceptions about the changes of life on Earth over time. On the pre-test 74% of students could correctly identify the order of the changes of life on Earth; but only 29% (d value = 0.48) of the students could put that order in a correct time sequence. Also, 26% of the students thought Humans and Dinosaurs lived at the same time. After instruction, 41% (d value = 0.50) of the students answered this question correctly. From our initial assessment we conclude that: 1) students do not have a strong comprehension of the Earth's history when they enter an intro level geology course; 2) even after instruction, students have the misconception that Pangaea represents what the Earth looked like when it formed; and 3) students understand the sequence of changes in life on Earth; but, they do not understand this sequence with respect to geologic time. Also, 15 students in a 3000/5000 level geology course were given the 15 item GCI test; ≥60% of these students could answer both Earth history questions correctly, suggesting that their initial misconceptions may have been removed after further instruction.


Presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America Southeastern Section, St. Petersburg, FL.

Paper Number 18-2.

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