The articles cited summarize the results of an interdisciplinary effort to distill what is known and articulate what else needs to be known about how humans think and learn about the Earth, focusing on temporal thinking, spatial thinking, systems thinking, and field-based learning. Concerning temporal thinking, the authors make the case that individuals with a strong grasp of geological timescales may incorporate a longer time horizon into personal and professional decision-making on environmental issues. Concerning spatial thinking, progress has been made on identifying and improving spatial skills that underpin the geoscience curriculum, but how geoscientists infer causal processes from spatial observations remains poorly understood. Concerning systems thinking, feedback loops have been identified as a threshold concept, difficult to master but opening the door to profound insights. Concerning field-based learning, the group has assembled evidence that field experiences help students develop professional vision and learn to create and critique first inscriptions.
Integrating across all four themes, we find that geoscientists are not merely individuals who know a lot about the oceans, atmosphere or solid earth; they are a “community of practice,” who have been shaped by, and now embody, a distinctive suite of experiences, approaches, perspectives, and values. These include an apprenticeship that involves grappling directly with the raw materials of nature, taking a long view of time, seeking explanations in systems of influences rather than in linear causality chains, and making use of natural experiments whose results manifest as patterns in space and time.
Kastens, K. A., C. A. Manduca, C. Cervato, R. Frodeman, C. Goodwin, L. S. Liben, D. W. Mogk, T. C. Spangler, N. Stillings, AND S. Titus (2008). Synthesizing research on thinking and learning in the Geosciences: An interdisciplinary collaborative project. Geological Society of America Annual Meeting & Exposition Abstracts with Program.
Kastens, K. A., Manduca, C. A., Cervato, C., Frodeman, R., Goodwin, C., Liben, L. S., Mogk, D. W., Spangler, T. C., Stillings, N. A., and Titus, S. (2009). How geoscientists think and learn: EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, v. 90(31), p. 265-266.