This site contains data relating to a paper published
in the August 25, 1998, issue of Eos.
Assessment of the success of any educational technology requires
analysis of what students know bother before and after a course.
Studies have shown that many students enter introductory physics
courses with misconceptions which are often unchanged reguardless of
teaching method. To see whether such misconceptions are commonly held
by introductory geology students, we gave an "earth science literacy" test to
149 students at the
University of Illinois at Chicago
taking an introductory geology course.
Most students stated that earthquakes
reflect the movement of subterranean plates. Most believe that volcanism derives from excess heat and/or
pressure, often within Earth's core. Both processes were
frequently associated with warmer climates and the ocean.
Many students attribute the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge to a rise in water levels. Few gave seafloor spreading
as a cause; many believe it is due to a collision of two plates.
Equal numbers of students put the extinction of the dinosaurs before
1 Ma and between 10 and 90 Ma. Many students placed the beginning of
at a few Ga, but a significant number placed it before 1 Ma. Though
most gave the age of Earth as a few Ga, 23% of the responses to all
three questions included a logical contradiction (e.g., the dinosaurs
becoming extinct before life arose).
Most students believe global warming is
due to destruction of the ozone layer; few cited increased
More than half of the students believe that salt melts ice by a chemical reaction.
As in the famed Harvard study, most students attributed the
to the distance of Earth from the Sun.
This test will be refined to better understand students' geological
preconceptions and to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching methods.