A Study Of Undergraduate Students’ Alternative Conceptions Of Earth’s Interior Using Drawing Tasks
Learning fundamental geoscience topics such as plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes requires students to develop a deep understanding of the conceptual models geologists use when describing the structure and dynamics of Earth’s interior. Despite the importance of these mental models underlying much of the undergraduate geoscience curriculum, surprisingly little research related to this complex idea exists in the discipline-based science education research literature. To better understand non-science-majoring undergraduates' conceptual models of Earth’s interior, student-generated drawings and interviews were used to probe student understanding of the Earth. Ninety-two semi-structured interviews were conducted with non-science-major college students at the beginning of an entry-level geology course at a large Midwestern university. Students were asked to draw a picture of Earth’s interior and provide think-aloud explanations of their drawings. The results reveal that students hold a wide range of alternative conceptions about Earth, with only a small fraction having scientifically accurate ideas. Students’ understandings ranged from conceptualizing Earth’s interior as consisting of horizontal layers of rock and dirt, to more sophisticated views with Earth’s interior being composed of concentric layers with unique physical and chemical characteristics. Processes occurring within Earth, such as "convection," were rarely mentioned or explained. These results provide a first-steps basis from which to further explore college students’ thinking and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on earth science teaching and geoscience education research.