Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Cinzia Cervato


As part of a campus-wide effort to transform introductory science courses to be more engaging and to more accurately convey the excitement of discovery in science, we have re-created the curriculum of our introductory geology lab. We have transformed what was a series of `cookbook' lab activities into a series of activities based in scientific inquiry and cooperative learning and have included a six-week, student driven research project focused on local groundwater and surface water issues, seeking to determine whether or not this new curriculum was an effective means to increase students' understanding of the nature of science and self-efficacy towards science. In addition to developing the research project curriculum, we worked with other university faculty to create a local hydrology research station which included eight monitoring wells and a stream gage, allowing students to collect their own water-level and water-quality data as well as to retrieve automatically collected data. In order to measure nature of science understanding, we used a modified version of the Student Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry questionnaire (Liang et al., 2005; Clough, 2010). We modified a vocational self-efficacy survey (Riggs et al. 1994) to measure science self-efficacy. Both instruments had average Cronbach's alpha values >0.8, making them reliable for our study. After three semesters of collecting data, we have found that an authentic research project slightly improves, but does not significantly increase overall nature of science understanding or science self-efficacy. Dis-aggregating the data into demographic sub-groups, nature of science understanding increased relatively more in non-STEM students than STEM students, and science self-efficacy increased relatively more in STEM students than non-STEM students. We also measured changes in students' understanding of geologic concepts in the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 semesters. We gave students enrolled in the lab a 15 question version of the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI, Libarkin et al., 2005) and found significant improvements from pre-test to post-test scores This thesis will present an overview of the our new curriculum and details about the results we found.


Copyright Owner

Elizabeth L. Moss



File Format


File Size

113 pages