Teach the Earth > Complex Systems > Teaching Activities > Choosing Papers

Choosing Papers

Deborah Gross
Chemistry Department, Carleton College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Mar 16, 2010


A procedure for having students dive directly into the literature to select papers that are appropriate for the class as a whole to read and discuss. The activity provides constraints and a format for sorting the chosen papers.

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This is a 300-level chemistry course which also satisfies a requirement in the Environmental Studies major. The majority of the students who take it are chemistry majors. As the prerequisite is any 200-level chemistry course, which can be fulfilled by taking only two chemistry courses, there are many qualified students. The course has an optional lab.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students must have familiarity with searching for and accessing journal articles through the library.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first project of the course, and it requires students to decide on papers that they will recommend to the class a whole for discussion throughout the term. The actual papers are chosen by a vote of the class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1. Understanding the literature.
2. Focusing on the core content of an article, to assess its goal.
3. Deciding what they are interested in.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

1. An ability to place papers from the literature into bins, based upon the content.
2. An opportunity to grapple with what to do with articles that may not easily fall into one or another category.

Other skills goals for this activity

1. Ability to use the literature and electronic databases to find articles of interest.
2. Ability to concisely summarize the goals and context of a paper.

Description of the activity/assignment

In an upper-level seminar course, students bear significant responsibility for their learning. This activity provides the framework to help them identify the exact topics that they will discuss throughout a course in Environmental Analysis. The students are given constraints so that they don't either wander completely aimlessly through the environmental literature or pick only papers on their favorite topic. They are instead asked to dip into the literature to find papers that deal with analysis of pollutants in air, water, and solid matrices, and to have at least one that is relevant to climate change.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students who bring papers to the class which meet the criteria have met the goals of the assignment.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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