This article was published in the Journal of Geoscience Edeucation, Vol. 56, No. 3, May 2008, pp. 251-260.
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ABSTRACT. Effective instruction hinges in part on understanding what prior knowledge students bring to the classroom, and on evaluating how this knowledge changes during instruction. In many disciplines, multiple-choice tests have been developed to gauge student prior knowledge and assess learning. In this study, a 15-item version of the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI) was used to assess the prior knowledge and learning of students enrolled in an introductory physical and historical geology course specifically designed for preservice elementary (K-8) teachers. Gains (pretest to posttest) among participants (n = 122) averaged 4%, similar to gains reported elsewhere. However, gains among participants enrolled in revised course sections (n = 84) averaged 7-8%. Detailed analysis shows that statistically significant gains occurred on test items related to geologic time, earthquakes, radiometric dating, and tectonics. Items for which the greatest gains were observed correlate with teaching method; classroom activities coupled with discussion and supplemental reading appear most effective in increasing student knowledge. Our interpretation of the GCI results suggests that students need multiple opportunities to work with geologic concepts in a variety of formats, and provides further evidence of the persistence of student prior knowledge in specific topics.