Native American students’ understanding of geologic time scale: 4th-8th grade ojibwe students’ understanding of earth’s geologic history

Nam Y., KARAHAN E. , Roehrig G.

International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, vol.11, no.4, pp.485-503, 2016 (Refereed Journals of Other Institutions) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 11 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Doi Number: 10.12973/ijese.2016.332a
  • Title of Journal : International Journal of Environmental and Science Education
  • Page Numbers: pp.485-503
  • Keywords: Earth geologic time scale, Earth history, Native american students


© 2016 by iSER, International Society of Educational Research.Geologic time scale is a very important concept for understanding long-term earth system events such as climate change. This study examines forty-three 4th-8th grade Native American—particularly Ojibwe tribe—students’ understanding of relative ordering and absolute time of Earth’s significant geological and biological events. This study also examines how these students understand the time scale of human history in relation to the longer geologic time scale of the earth and of the Ojibwe’s unique history. The students participated in a 15-hour lesson unit focused on the topic of climate change in Earth history. The two major sources of data included: 1) students’ relative ordering and written descriptions of ten given Earth historical events and 2) student groups’ placing of nineteen events on an absolute time line. Students’ relative ordering of ten given events and student groups’ placing of nineteen events on an absolute time line were analyzed quantitatively by descriptive statistics, whereas students’ written descriptions of the relative ordering of the ten given events were analyzed qualitatively. The results show that the students understand Earth’s geological events as three distinctive zones: near the beginning of Earth history, relative recent events, and between these two categories. The results also show that many students interpret general historical events in human history like “starting agriculture” through the lens of their own history and cultural viewpoints. This study shows that younger children have a general knowledge of major events in Earth’s history, such as continental movement, but cannot organize an accurate chronological order of these events. This study also shows that indigenous students’ knowledge of their own cultural and historical events affects their understandings of human history.