understanding complexity and uncertainty, and transfer of knowledge from mathematics and physics to solve problems in the geosciences. Research on the development of expertise in the geosciences, including the difficult process of developing spatial thinking and the ability to think about geological time, has potential to help novices advance toward such expertise. Finally, researchers are beginning to gain understanding of how different learning environments and contexts, including the classroom, laboratory, the field, and the workplace, affect students’ learning. This has included investigations of how contexts influence students’ values, beliefs, and feelings, and how these influences may, in turn, affect learning.

King concluded with an outline of progress in geosciences education research. This progress includes professional development for faculty, with training in important findings from geosciences education research; research funding and collaboration across institutions, disciplines, and nations; and dissemination of research findings to raise the profile of the research and encourage application of its findings.


In the discussion following the presentations, Adam Fagen (National Research Council) asked Heller and Redish about the applicability of what has been learned in physics education research to the other science disciplines. Redish and Heller agreed that there are not only some real differences, but also similarities across the disciplines. Heller said he reminds his physics colleagues that learning is a biological process, and that content, skills, and attitudes are inseparable from a biological perspective.

Ginger Holmes Rowell (National Science Foundation) asked what can be learned from recent learners (i.e., students who have taken a course in the previous semester) and how they might help to design more effective learning environments. Addressing the second question, Redish cited the University of Colorado’s Learning Assistance Program as an interesting and exciting use of recent learners by giving them instruction in pedagogy and folding them back into the classroom. He explained that many students from that program are recruited to become K-12 science teachers.

In response to a question from Robin Wright, Wood said that the field needs better assessments to measure higher order thinking skills, such as problem-solving. Redish agreed and described his own efforts to create assessments that address the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as by including essay questions and multiple-choice problems that are difficult to answer without a solid conceptual understanding of a physical system.

Wood and King discussed the importance of being transparent with students about learning goals and methods as a way to promote learning. Wood noted that Dee Silverthorn (2006) has written beautifully on the need

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