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Interviews, paper-and-pencil (PNP) exercises, and class observations were the qualitative research methods used to investigate student alternate conceptions and their cognitive models of geoscience concepts. Three categories of geoscience concepts guided the research: rocks, density and convection, and water. A taxonomy of alternate conceptions is presented for the purpose of discussing the different ways that students conceptualize geoscience concepts, and examples of student-held alternate conceptions are listed herein. Coherent cognitive models about (1) rocks and their origins, (2) mantle dynamics, (3) the storage of groundwater in the subsurface and its connections to drinking water, and (4) the origin and movement of groundwater were generated from the data about alternate conceptions. This study also contains an evaluation of the three methods used in terms of their effectiveness at revealing student thinking, and different models for conceptualizing students' alternate conceptions are discussed. These include the discrete correct-incorrect model, the continuous unscientific-scientific model, the continuum model, the radial model, and the simplified web model. The findings of this research can be used to facilitate constructivist student-centered learning when they are taken into consideration and factored into (1) the practice of teaching, (2) course curriculum development, and (3) the development of formative and summative assessments that might include tests and in-class activities, respectively.

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