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How to Plan a Single Class Period


Jump down to Setting Learning Goals | Creating Opportunities for Practice | General Example | Specific Example 1 | Specific Example 2 | Assessment | Link to Worksheet

Students watching a demonstration of the kind of stick-slip behavior seen in earthquakes.
This page describes one method you can use to plan a single class period. It is based on research on learning and on my experiences as a geology professor, including the workshops I attended and interactions with my colleagues. – Carol Ormand

Setting Learning Goals for the Day

Planning for a daily class period starts with figuring out what you want to accomplish in that class. Presumably, this day's class fits into your course, and will help toward accomplishing the goals of the course, so your goals for the class period should support your course goals. What do you want students to be able to DO at the end of the hour? What skills do you want them to be developing? Another way to think about this question is from an assessment standpoint: what do you expect your students to demonstrate to you, in their next exam, lab report, project presentation, or other assessment? Consider the examples of learning objectives listed in this blog post, Some Students Will....

At this point, some of you are thinking, "Skill development is all well and good, but there is some basic knowledge my students will need before we can get to that." Ask yourself why they need that knowledge. What will they be expected to do with it? Then consider whether you can skip the "information transfer" step and proceed to practicing skills. For instance, can you design a homework exercise that requires the students to gather the essential background information from the reading (or from other sources) prior to class? Can you give them the information on a handout, to which they can refer as they do an exercise? If not, perhaps an interactive lecture, using ConcepTests, interactive demonstrations, or Just-in-Time-Teaching would be a good use of class time.

If you can move on to using information in some way (applying, analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, evaluating), then we are back to the original question: what do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the class period? It may help to think about this in terms of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning.

Four students doing collaborative research in their mineralogy class at Montana State University using X-ray powder diffraction; image courtesy Dave Mogk.

Creating Opportunities for Practice

Once you have established your learning goal(s) for the day's class period, it becomes much simpler to figure out how to spend the class time. You MUST give your students the opportunity to practice whatever you will expect them to be able to do. It's possible to give them practice exclusively through homework assignments, but research demonstrates that practice with immediate feedback is most valuable (Cross, 1998). If the skill you want your students to master is entirely new to them, you may want to demonstrate what you have in mind, first. Or you may wish to have them try it on their own, or in small groups, with detailed instructions. If it is a skill that some students already have, but is entirely new for others, carefully managed small groups can be very effective.

General Example

Let's suppose your topic for the day is structural geology.

Choosing learning goals

There are any number of goals you might formulate, relating to structural geology. Here are just a few things you might want students to be able to do. (These range from application to evaluation in Bloom's Taxonomy.)
  • look at a field photo or geologic map and identify major folds and faults
  • draw a schematic cross-section through major structures on a geologic map
  • describe the deformational history recorded on a geologic map or cross-section
  • identify the types and orientations of forces that created the structures in a photo or map
  • relate the map region to geologic/tectonic events previously discussed in class
  • relate the topography to the underlying structures and lithologies
  • identify potential oil and gas traps on a geologic map or cross-section, and recommend three locations for drilling
  • choose a location for a proposed mansion, dam, nuclear waste storage facility, or other engineered structure
Do you ever wonder what learning goals other geoscience faculty have for their students? Search the Course Goals/Syllabus Database.

Choosing teaching methods

How would you go about accomplishing any of those goals? There is never just one right answer; you could use a wide variety of methods to accomplish any one goal. But the most effective methods, according to research on learning, do the following:
  • build on prior knowledge
  • have students actively participating in the learning process
  • use real-world data
  • give students frequent practice and timely and constructive feedback
  • address multiple learning styles (visual/verbal, active/reflective, global/sequential, sensory/intuitive)

There are a wide variety of active learning strategies that address these needs. Learning about these different strategies will give you greater flexibility in your teaching, and will add variety to your classroom activities. For introductions to several active learning strategies, see the Starting Point page on teaching methods or the Cutting Edge Course Design page on instructional strategies.

Syncline at Sideling Hill, WV, visible from the interstate. Photo by Julie Maxson.

Specific Example 1

Suppose that one of your course goals is for students to be able to interpret the geologic map of their home state, whatever it might be. In that case, your goal for the day might be that students describe the deformational history recorded on a geologic map or cross-section. Presumably, they will have seen other geologic maps, prior to this day's class. Let's also presume that they have done the reading, which defines major types of folds and faults. Here are some things you might do in class:
  • Remind students of the relevance of this exercise to their lives; give them reasons to care. These could include, but are certainly not limited to:
    • It will help you to understand any deformation in your home state
    • It will hone your problem-solving skills
    • It will enrich your life as you travel across the country
    • Understanding deformation helps us to predict where we'll find oil and gas
    • This is how geologists have figured out the history of the Earth
  • Normal faults produced in an extensional sandbox experiment. Photos by Robert Burger.
  • Reinforce the relationship between faults and forces by demonstrating the effects of compression and extension on a sandbox model; have students describe the forces applied and name the resulting structures
  • Reinforce the relationship between folds and forces by having students deform layers of play-doh or modeling clay; have them describe the forces applied and name the resulting structures
  • Reinforce the concepts of geologic maps and cross-sections by having students slice through their clay models horizontally and vertically
    • Have some students tilt their models prior to slicing, so that they are cutting through plunging folds
    • Have students sketch "geologic maps" and "cross-sections" of their models after slicing
  • Show slides of structures; have the students identify the structures. Even better if the slides show roadcuts through structures on major U.S. highways or in national parks - places your students might have seen or expect to see.
  • Show slides or diagrams of crosscutting structures, and ask students to describe the sequence of deformation. (You can also do this as a think-pair-share exercise.)
  • Have students work in groups, examining one or more geologic maps and cross-sections, to interpret the history of deformation recorded on the map. You could have them come up with a sequence of events, and also constrain those events via the ages of the rock units that are (or are not) deformed.
  • Have different groups of students work on different maps/cross-sections, then report to each other about the maps they've examined (in other words, do a jigsaw exercise)
Oil and gas well, Alberta, Canada. Photo from Wikimedia Commons; public domain.

Specific Example 2

Suppose that one of your course goals is for students to be able to relate geology to the unequal distribution of the world's resources. In that case, your goal for the day might be that students identify potential oil and gas traps on a geologic map, and recommend three locations for drilling. Presumably, they will have seen other geologic maps, prior to this day's class. Let's also presume that they have done the reading, which defines major types of folds and faults, and mentions structural traps. Here are some things you might do in class:
  • Remind students of the relevance of this exercise to their lives; give them reasons to care (these could be anything from asking them how much it cost the last time they filled their gas tanks to taking a straw poll about how many of them think we should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
  • Show a map of oil resources around the world, and compare it to a map of tectonic plate boundaries. Ask students where the areas of overlap are. Then ask them where there is oil that is not on plate boundaries, and ask what those regions have in common.
  • Use an analog model to demonstrate the movement of fluids through porous media (and the impermeability of other media)
  • Show a slide/overhead of a cross-section through a structural trap, and have students tell you where they would drill. Then ask them what the geologic map of that structure would look like. (You may want to do this as a think-pair-share exercise.)
  • Make a game out of drilling for oil. Example: Virtual Oil Well Game.
  • Use a role-playing activity to explore different aspects of the problem: assign students to be oil company executives, environmentalists, state senators, private landowners in the area, wildlife specialists, etc. Example: The Great Energy Debate.

Assessment

There are as many different effective methods to assess learning as there are effective teaching methods. You can choose any method that suits your needs, but remember that students learn best with prompt feedback (Cross, 1998). So it enhances learning to fit some quick assessment into your daily plan. For example, you can have students turn in some product of the day's activity, either to be graded or just for you to look over quickly and respond. Or you can have students write down the most important thing they learned in class, or the biggest question in their minds after completing the exercise, for you to read later. To learn more about assessment options, see the Starting Point page on assessment or the Cutting Edge page on assessment.

Go to the Lesson Planning Worksheet.

References

Cross, K. Patricia (1998). Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching. In Classroom Assessment and Research: An Update on Uses, Approaches, and Findings. Edited by Thomas A. Angelo, San Francicso, Jossey-Bass Publishers.