Student Learning of Complex Earth Systems: A Model to Guide Development of Student Expertise in Problem-Solving Academic Article uri icon


  • Nat. Assoc. Geosci. Teachers. Engaging students in problem-solving concerning environmental issues in near-surface complex Earth systems involves developing student conceptualization of the Earth as a system and applying that scientific knowledge to the problems using practices that model those used by professionals. In this article, we review geoscience education research related to student learning and ill-structured problem-solving in the classroom. This article has two main goals: (1) to propose a model that applies the National Research Council (NRC, 2012) Science and Engineering Practices to students engaged with authentic, ill-structured problems centered on environmental issues and complex near-surface Earth systems (CNSES), and (2) analyze existing literature in the field of ill-structured problem-solving in CNSES to validate the proposed model. Eleven research studies met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Although none of the selected articles met every component of the model, many of the papers only lacked a few components. We suggest the proposed model will help to alleviate student difficulties in the classroom that arise from lack of background knowledge and enthusiasm about the course or problem, and help guide the design of instructional activities that seek to engage geoscience students in authentic environmental problems.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Geoscience Education

altmetric score

  • 8.08

author list (cited authors)

  • Holder, L. N., Scherer, H. H., & Herbert, B. E.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Holder, Lauren N||Scherer, Hannah H||Herbert, Bruce E

publication date

  • January 2017