June 25, 2014
Every once in awhile, I come across something (a tweet, an email, etc.) that reminds me of an article I read or conference presentation I heard that I want to go back and revisit. Recently, my memory was triggered by this tweet:
— Yale Climate Project (@YaleClimateComm) May 28, 2014
I don’t think it is surprising to any of us that scientific terms are (mis)heard and (mis)used. Geology certainly has its own vocabulary, and we as scientists sometimes unintentionally interchange and confuse the use. But this report triggered something I heard about geology terminology years ago (it is not often I can recall a conference presentation years later, but this was a fascinating one that stayed with me). In 2011, Karen Kortz (Community College of Rhode Island) gave a talk at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting titled Geology as a Foreign Language: The Case of Language Versus Conceptual Understanding. Along with co-author Amber Gilfert, they sought to determine if agreement exists among textbook authors on a common vocabulary for students in introductory physical geology courses. To establish a core list of terms, they analyzed the bolded words in 16 commonly used introductory physical geology textbooks, making notes about the differences in hyphenation, spelling, spacing, etc.
“Tying our research in with this previous research, we found that the number of vocabulary words in most current introductory geology textbooks will overwhelm students. We also found that there is not a common language of core terms that textbooks agree upon. This diversity indicates that textbook authors (and perhaps most geologists) have their own set of key terms, likely leading to difficulties for students to learn a common geologic language.”
I encourage you to read about Kortz’s work as well as the Leiserowitz et al. (2014) report. As we know, an introductory geology course is the “one-and-done” introduction to our discipline for the majority of students. So how can we introduce and use terminology with our students in our courses, especially the introductory-level courses for non-science majors, to ensure accurate discipline understanding of the vocabulary?
Additional sources for exploration
Jacobs, G. (1989). Word usage misconceptions among first‐year university physics students. International Journal of Science Education, 11(4): 395-399. (Abstract available)
Leiserowitz, A., Feinberg, G., Rosenthal, S., Smith, N., Anderson A., Roser-Renouf, C. & Maibach, E. (2014). What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. (PDF available)
Pauline W. U. Chinn, Steven Businger, Kelly Lance, Jason K. Ellinwood, J. Kapōmaika‘i Stone, Lindsey Spencer, Floyd W. McCoy, M. Puakea Nogelmeier, and Scott K. Rowland (2014) Kahua A‘o—A Learning Foundation: Using Hawaiian Language Newspaper Articles for Earth Science Professional Development. Journal of Geoscience Education: May 2014, Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 217-226. (Abstract available)