Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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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Simon at Metageologist is hosting AW #44 this month & the chosen theme is “Most important teacher.”   I have to say, this was an easy choice for me, though as I thought about it a bit more I realized that I really should also give a few “runner-up” acknowledgements.

For me, the title “important teacher” comes into play because that person has influenced not just my knowledge of a particular subject, but has also changed how I address research or teaching or just life in general (or all three).   So, I need to give a few shout-outs per category first:

  • most influential on how I live my life: this one goes to someone who was never actually a “teacher” but was instead my Girl Scout leader in high school.   I’m a nerd.   I’m a nerd who was in Girl Scouting all the way through high school eventually earning my Gold Award (equivalent of the Eagle Scout).   I had a variety of leaders over the years, most of whom were mothers of someone in the troop.   But Barb Burri was a single woman who was crazy enough to be the leader of the high school troop in the town I grew up in.   At the time, Barb worked in computers (she’s changed careers since then…), she liked camping, skiing, hiking, cooking, reading, had a wicked sense of humor, and would voluntarily spend Wednesday nights with a group of high schoolers.   I grew up in a family that spent plenty of time outdoors, but here was a woman that would encourage us to try and cook a 35-lb turkey at a town-wide encampment and who was willing to discuss a wide-range of topics I never really wanted to bring up with my parents.   Because of Barb, I’m now the crazy woman with a troop of middle school girls (none of which is mine…), who volunteers my time freely to a wide-range of organizations, and could make the hard decisions about balancing life vs. work without agonizing about it.
  • most influencial on my teaching style: this has to go to Jim Brophy at Indiana University, who opened my eyes to ways to teach other than just lecturing (sorry to all of my school & undergrad profs, who probably also tried this — I just didn’t get the message); my 1st semester as a grad student, I worked under Jim on an Earth Materials class for envi studies and education undergrads with a few archeology grad students thrown in for fun and sitting in the back of the class was eye-opening.   Jim used reading reflections that were due before class started, he had interactive questions for the students to discuss in small groups during lecture, and the analogies he used (M&M’s in a bucket for xtal fractionation) stick with me even 10+ years later.   I still teach plate tectonics & the model of the atom the way he did in that class, because he started with the evidence & moved to what current paradigms are while demonstrating the scientific process along the way.   I took several grad classes with Jim during my two years at IU, which were all great, but the most memorable was learning MELTS by starting with the original simple mixing model papers and reading the literature that forms the backbone for this powerhouse of ig pet.   Other people have influenced my teaching style, but none as much as Jim.   Oh, and Jim would also want you to know: a basalt is NOT a basalt is NOT a basalt.
  • most influential on my research: Jane Gilotti at UIowa.   (a few people may now start wondering if aliens have taken over my blog, but I’m serious on this one)   Jane has very, very high expectations and pushed me more than anyone else I’ve worked with.   When I took microstructural analysis with Jane my first semester at Iowa, she flat out told me that my work was going to be graded to a higher standard than the masters or undergrads in the class.   My thin section sketches back from that class are covered in red.   But I worked my butt off to get my presentation & paper for that class up to her standards.   I continued to work like crazy to get my talks up to par over the next few years and one of my most treasured compliments was a “well-done” from Jane after I ran the tectonics research group discussion a few years into my PhD.   My writing improved greatly under Jane (though it probably could still be better), which has made writing papers, proposals, and even just short statements for students that much easier.   Its Jane’s high standards that really pushed me and I’m grateful for it.

Ok, so now that I’ve rambled on a bit about the runner’s up, my real choice for “most important teacher” is: Kim Hannula.   (Kim, you could stop reading now…)   I lucked out and was assigned to Kim’s freshman seminar class my first year at Middlebury.   I was the stubborn student who thought she knew exactly what she was going to do & when, but Kim managed to steer me over the next few years, so that somehow I ended up at a metamorphic geologist and not as a planetary scientist (based on jobs available, best decision ever).

Teaching-wise, Kim would always write an outline of the topics that were going to be covered that day on the board, so we had an idea of where we were in the day’s lecture — my outline is a reoccurring slide in powerpoint, but same idea.   Some of my intro labs (and the majority of my structure labs) are either directly taken from Kim or modified to some extent from what I did as an undergrad.

From the research side, I worked with Kim in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont on my undergraduate thesis.   The numbering scheme I use to collect rocks, what my field notebook looks like, how I tend to set up the organization of a paper vs. appendices are all things that I learned during that project from Kim.   And since that project had some pitfalls, it was also from Kim that I learned that what you want to do isn’t always what you’ll end up being able to do, but the alternative might actually be more interesting in the long run.   Good thing I had that knowledge before I tackled my masters rocks or I might still be trying to figure out what was going on in those darn amphibolites.   Once I started advising senior theses, I also tried to bring back into mind Kim’s interaction with me so that I could be that “good” advisor who actually was a help to my advisee.

On the personal side, I learned from Kim not to give up.   (I’ll let Kim explain in her own words.)

In addition to being a great teacher, Kim has also been a wonderful mentor, someone who kicks my butt about not getting things done in a timely fashion, and a person who I rely on for good advice about both teaching and research.   If I can be that kind of teacher for my students, I’ll be happy.

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What my students discovered for news:

Ok, time to grade more exams.   Fun.   Only a few days to India!

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This is the week right before spring break, so I’ve fallen behind a bit in posting while I was distracted by writing a few exams.   I’m going to India starting on Saturday, so I hopefully can catch up (if not get a bit ahead!) this week.

News stories:

(The impact story was popular as was the Titan story–both had multiple summaries.)

I should get the my physical geology’s summary up later today.

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(now that I’ve graded the solar system summaries, its time to tackle physical geology)

The most popular article this week was about the earthquake in Missouri, in case you were wondering 🙂

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Its been a busy week, so I’m a bit late getting this compiled.   I’ll try to get the geology news from Physical done shortly after this is posted.


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(the fire alarm went off at 4.15 & 5.10 this morning, so please excuse weird spelling / grammar mistake — I’ll try to catch them)

What my students selected:


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