Kim Kastens' comments for AGU honors party, December 15, 2021
"I am very honored to be only the second AGU member brought into the AGU College of Fellows via the relatively new Education Section. My most sincere thanks to the colleagues who gave birth to the education section and to my nominators. And going back before that, thank you so much to my mentors, and collaborators, my family and friends, especially those who made the effort to come here tonight.
What I am being honored for tonight is for research on how human beings think and learn about the Earth and environment. I'd like to now reflect for a moment on why does this kind of research belong in the American Geophysical Union?
Let's think about three kinds of people (see diagram). The classic AGU member, in the upper right, is a researcher who studies the Earth. Many AGU members also spend at least part of their work week or year or career as educators who guide learners of various sorts to understand and think about the Earth; this activity is in the lower right. And over here on the left, are researchers who study how people think & learn about the Earth and environment.
I want to talk about flows of insight and information among these groups. The first flow, arrow #1 in the diagram, has been the one that I have been able to leverage in my own career. I had the good fortune to spend 36 years at amazing Earth and oceanographic institutions, surrounded by great geo-thinkers. From that experience, I was able to identify powerful ways of thinking that are characteristic of geoscientists: using spatial thinking and systems thinking, extracting insights from large observational data sets and from models, asking questions. Then with colleagues, I was able craft research studies that asked how learners can work towards these same characteristic ways of thinking.
The second flow of information and insight goes from education researchers to geoscientists while they are wearing their educator hats. SERC, the host organization for tonight's celebration, has been a champion at fostering this flow, organizing workshops, webinars, symposia, and curriculum development efforts that bring forward useful research-derived insights. This flow ratchets up the quality of education.
The third flow goes back from front-line educators to education researchers. This flow ratchets up the utility of education research, by among other things informing education researchers of what is difficult to teach and where students appear to be struggling. Without these two extrinsic flows of information, education research is at risk of wandering down lines of inquiry that are not of value to the Earth or its inhabitants.
The fourth and final flow goes back from Researchers who study how people think and learn about the Earth to Geoscience Researchers. This flow has been a mere a trickle, but I think it has great promise. Good PhD programs insist that their students understand how their tools work, whether those tools are side-looking sonars, or mass specs, or seismographs. As scientists, our most important and most universal tool is the human mind. This is the tool with which we transform our observations into to hypotheses, and our hypotheses into insights, and then communicate our insights with other people. These minds of ours have great capacity but also severe limitations and distortion-inducing biases. This final flow has the potential to ratchet up the quality of research about the Earth by improving how geoscientists leverage the affordances of their mind while working around its limitations.
These four flows can all a find a place within AGU. To the extent that AGU fosters these flows, all of these enterprises will benefit, as well as the Earth herself."