Fostering systemic thinking through the use of experimental work methods – a treatment study with pre-service teachers in the area of physical geography

Dipl.-Geoökol. Daniel Volz
First advisor: Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund


Thinking and acting in spatial structures and processes are fundamental aspects of geography as a science, as a course to study at university and as a subject to teach in school. They represent a great challenge to all stakeholders involved in times of global change and the related dynamics of all geographical subsystems. Approaches for fostering systemic thinking are therefore gaining increasing attention.  This applies especially also to pre-service teachers in their particular function as domain-specific multipliers of geography.

The experimental approach is a classic method of the natural sciences to identify elements and processes within a system as well as effects of influences on the system. As part of geography teacher training, experiments had been addressed mainly in advanced semesters so far. Thereby the focus had usually been placed on enhancing the students’ competencies to apply scientific methods and practicing the use of experiments as an instructional methodology. In contrast, a new teaching & learning concept has been using experimental work to foster pre-service teachers’ knowledge acquisition within the course ‘introduction to physical geography’. The established triad of lecture, lab and tutorial thus obtains a new focus with regard both to time and content by additional time for exercises in the laboratory. Using examples from the subsystems “lithosphere”, “pedosphere” and “atmosphere”, experiments and models are used to identify, examine and understand basic structures and processes within the subsystems and then enable the students to understand the fundamental geographic principles that are independent of the specific system.

A pre-post-design with comparison group is used to verify the intended effects of the new teaching & learning concept on the enrolled pre-service teachers’ systemic thinking. The research approach uses concept maps to examine the development of the pre-service teachers’

(1)   ability to describe systemic structures as well as

(2)    their use of subject-specific language, which is closely related to their pre-concepts.


From the Concrete to the Abstract:  Experimental work to understand fundamental structures and processes by the example of terrain climatology

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