Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Improving the teaching of plate tectonics: teacher education by means of a scientific approach that deals with teacher misconceptions
Originator Chris King
Department Department of Education, Keele University, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1782 621111 ext. 7420
Fax +44 (0)1782 583555

A series of interactive workshops is being offered as an INSET programme (In-Service Education and Training) to schools by the Earth Science Education Unit at Keele University in order to support teaching of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics and the structure of the Earth were chosen for the following reasons:

The task of the Earth Science Education Unit has been to develop a workshop approach that:

The workshop falls into four main phases:

  1. Plate tectonic knowledge from Geography: Photographic slides from a KS3 level geography film strip illustrating plate tectonic processes are shown. The slides are used to present plate tectonics as a series of facts and no explanations or evidence are discussed at this stage. This shows the understanding that children might bring from their KS3 geography.
  2. Developing a scientific understanding: 'How do we take this basic knowledge and turn it into scientific understanding appropriate for KS4 children?' The answer is to revisit the slides in which the plate tectonic ideas were presented as 'facts' and ask scientific questions about these facts. When all the concepts have been covered, the teachers are presented with a completed sheet listing major points of evidence and explanation.
  3. An interactive practical approach: A series of practical activities are made available to participants. These are all taken from an Earth Science Teachers Association (ESTA) publication (Kennett and King, 1996). Participants try out the activities, demonstrate them and feed back their findings to the rest of the group. Teaching strategies and technical matters are discussed and the value of the activity in demonstrating key plate tectonic processes is debated.
  4. The evolution of plate tectonic theory: The teachers are presented with a scrambled list of the main players and their dates in the story of the evolution of plate tectonic theory. Unscrambling this illustrates the development of the theory and the story over time.

Feedback has been very positive, with such comments as, 'now have a greater depth of understanding to explain plate tectonics', 'have more confidence with improved knowledge', 'will include new ideas in our scheme of work', ' excellent', etc. This should inspire the Earth Science Education Unit team to greater heights!



Interactive workshops
Teacher training

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