Posts Tagged ‘intro’

Where do labs come from?

I have lab on Tuesday & Thursday this semester (same lab, just half the physical students have lab on Tues & the other 1/2 on Thurs). As I was putting out lab & taking pictures of the samples for my own documentation, I contemplated the fact that of the 13 labs I have scheduled for this semester, I only designed one from the ground up. Let me give you the chart & where they were originally from:

Lab 1 Rock Stories Gustavus lab manual
Lab 2 Scientific method Kim Hannula
Lab 3 Minerals I Gustavus lab manual
Lab 4 Minerals II Gustavus lab manual
Lab 5 Rocks I Gustavus lab manual
Lab 6 Rocks II Gustavus lab manual
Lab 7 Forest River Park Rory McFadden
Lab 8 Topographic maps Gustavus lab manual
Lab 9 locating epicenters Virtual Earthquake
Lab 10 Structural geology Me!
Lab 11 Fossils still looking for a good one to use…
Lab 12 Groundwater currently use one found on internet, but we just got “ant farms” that I want to try and use
Lab 13 Stream table also something I want to add this semester cause we have the resources…

As you can see, I lean strong on the Gustavus material for the rocks & minerals labs, but that department-created lab manual then goes off and focuses on a three-week sequence that involves field trips & drawing a cross-section of the St. Peter, MN area. I can do one week of field trip at Salem State, but only because we can walk to Forest River Park. That field trip is not going to result in being able to determine the geology of the entire Salem quadrangle, so I needed to go another direction.

(The rocks & mineral labs have tweaks due to the fact that I have a different set of samples available, but on the whole, the lab looks amazingly like what I taught while in MN.)

Kim Hannula replied to a tweet that I posted about a year ago & was kind enough to send me her Scientific Process lab. I modified it a bit (had to choose new buildings to measure the distance between) and changed the order of the questions after a few mutterings from the students, but it would be easily recognizable to Kim.

For the topographic map lab, the basis is the Gustavus lab, but I modified it heavily to have the students looking at local maps of Salem and eastern Massachusetts. Still, the bare bones are there if you hold them next to each other.

Unsurprisingly, I got the Forest River Park lab from another professor at Salem State. He had previously received (& modified it) from a different professor. I added a few of my own “twists” to the lab, but it is fairly close to what Rory runs in his physical class.

Though I use the data & maps from the online Virtual Earthquake site, I do print the seismographs out and have the students do the entire process by hand. Its just fun to see the students trying to remember how to use a compass to draw a circle.

Two semesters ago, I used a lab manual for the structure lab. It was the students’ least favorite lab, so I vowed to revise. This past semester, I came up with an entirely online lab where the students use Visual Geology to answer a sequence of questions and then create their own 3D blocks for the final step. The students enjoyed the lab, though I think I need to modify the questions a bit to get more educational benefit from the assignment…

My office-mate is a paleontologist and has an intro fossil lab that I may try and use this year, but I’m open to suggestions. I started lab a week earlier this semester, so this is a new one on the schedule, but students have asked for fossils in the class.

We have equipment to for a more hands-on Groundwater and Stream lab, so my goal is to develop at least one of the two this spring. Or find someone else who has already done the work and tweak. Suggestions anyone? (the groundwater models are new, but the stream table is ancient and definitely not an Emriver model)

As I look at this list, I realize how blessed I have been to be able to take a bit from here and a bit from there for my physical labs. In contrast, when I think of my mineralogy, petrology & structure labs, they are to a large part either slightly modified from what I had or taught as a grad student. There are a few additions from the SERC workshops I’ve attended, but its not nearly the hodgepodge that physical has become.

So, let me ask anyone else out there who teaches intro geology: what do you use for labs? A hodgepodge? A published lab manual? All labs you created yourself?

(Note: this is a bit self-serving, since I’m still trying to find a few more labs to use!)


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I wrote the last entry, because I really wanted to start recording some of the more unique articles my students found while surfing the internet.   (This week was actually a scatter, instead of having one main repeater.)   So, here’s the week 4 subjects as found by my students:

One student (!) managed to fulfill the extra credit portion of the assignment by finding an article that related to the content of that week’s lecture (week 4: minerals) by finding an article about export of REE elements from China.

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I teach at a liberal arts college that has a focus on integrating writing into as many courses as possible and that does include intro science classes.   The latter can be difficult, especially when I have 70 students and everything has to be graded by me in a timely fashion.   But I understand how important it is, especially in the sciences, to encourage students to write more.   There are some similarities between writing for humanities classes & the sciences (e.g. grammar, well-formulated thoughts, clarity of language), but there are also differences.   In the sciences, there is a strong emphasis on data vs. interpretation, citations to indicate where the facts & information came from, and learning to distinguish between “questionable” and “reputable” sources.

Ok, so how do I do this with 70 intro students?   Several years ago, I was cruising the internet looking at syllabi for other people’s Earthquake & Volcanoes classes.   I was trying to determine what textbooks were being used, which topics had more or less emphasis, and any other special activities that were integrated into the course.   And in this search I found a Middlebury assignment (can’t find the link to it now…), where the students were “journaling” several earthquake/volcano-related news stories a week.   To me, it was a “yes, I have to use this” moment.  The students would get to write something every week, they would have to learn to cite news sources, and they would have a better idea of what was going on geologically in real-time.   Originally, I had the students find two stories per week.   At that point in time I had 80 intro students and it was too much grading.   This semester, I’ve cut back to one entry per week and expanded the topics to anything “geological” that is covered by 2+ public news sources, which is doable grading-wise.   I’m on the fourth cycle of grading and I can already see an increase in their ability to write well, which is thrilling to me.   They will also have a 2-page paper to write later in the semester, but I have hope that the whole process for that paper will be eased because of their continual writing during this semester.

But what do my students find to write about?   I see some definite trends.   The majority end up on one topic (e.g. New Zealand earthquake for the 1st cycle, miners trapped in Chile for the 2nd, local flooding for the 3rd), but a few search far & wide for stranger topics.   In that latter group, I’ve seen articles that were discussed on twitter the week before in either the “yay!” or “fail” category, which is entertaining.   There is also a small group that has discovered that there is an earthquake every week that produces enough news coverage for them to use (e.g. California, Afghanistan, Wyoming).

All in all, I may modify the assignment slightly over time, but I like how it integrates writing into science.

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