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Teaching Section

Wandersee, James H. [1], Clary, Renee M. [2].

A Study of Geobotanical Learning Opportunities at Two US Petrified Forests.

Public understanding of science depends on the ability to integrate knowledge across scientific domains. People learn science both formally in classrooms and informally in such places as national parks, museums, and botanic gardens. Petrified wood specimens are large plant fossils that the public is usually allowed to touch and observe directly--often in situ. Petrified wood is also a useful topic for instruction that cuts across botany and geology. Our prior research (BSA, 2004) has shown that it is frequently misunderstood, even by college students, as to: formation, composition, properties, and geographical occurrences. From a teaching standpoint, it is also a fascinating, tangible, and self-illustrating example of preserved botanical structures and the process of permineralization acting across time, as environmental conditions changed. It's an analog of wood, and yet it isn't wood! It is a springboard to understanding plant evolution and geologic processes. We conducted an on-site qualitative study that compares and contrasts the opportunities for science learning and knowledge integration at two well-known privatelyowned and interpreted US petrified forests: Mississippi State Petrified Forest near Flora, MS and California Petrified Forest near Calistoga, CA. Both sites charge a modest admission fee, offer a trans-forest walk with petrified wood specimens to be seen along the trail, use trail guide pamphlets, and possess very limited interpretive trailside signage systems. Our analysis shows that both sites offer visitors valuable observational and tactile experiences, and have the potential to promote a better understanding of plants across geologic time. Yet each site is superior in respect to some instructional features and inferior with respect to others. We think that students need to experience field work to understand both geology and botany. In botany instruction, paleobotanic field experiences are uncommon. We argue that that everyone should visit a petrified forest enroute to becoming scientifically literate.


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Related Links:
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1 - Louisiana State University, Dept. of Curric. & Instr., 15-Degree Laboratory, Room 223-F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 70803, USA
2 - University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Dept. of Geology, Box 44530, Lafayette, Louisiana, 70504, USA

Keywords:
botanical education
geobiology
knowledge integration
opportunity to learn
petrified forest
petrified wood
public understanding of science
qualitative research
scientific literacy.

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: 6-8
Location: 400/Hilton
Date: Monday, August 15th, 2005
Time: 11:15 AM
Abstract ID:480


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