Teach the Earth > Geophysics > Teaching Activities > Introduction to Seismic Refraction

Introduction to Seismic Refraction

Stephen K. Boss
University of Arkansas
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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 activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jul 5, 2007


First exposure of students to manipulating seismic refraction/reflection principles to developing a very simple model using spreadsheet software. Emphasize computing and numeracy skills and learning to use spreadsheets for data analysis and graphic display.

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This is one of the earliest lab assignments in an first course in geophysics for undergraduates (mainly seniors).
Designed for a geophysics course
Integrates geophysics into a core course in geology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

It is a very simple assignment designed to help students learn to manipulate simple equations governing seismic refraction/reflection using spreadsheet software. In effect, they are creating a simple numerical model upon which later labs will build.

How the activity is situated in the course

This an early lab exercise given during the first two weeks of the semester. At this stage, students are still quite apprehensive of geophysics in general and quantitative aspects in particular. It is a stand-alone exercise, though students will be able to build on their work in succeding exercises.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Primary goal is to aid students learning to use spreadsheet software for the first time (in some cases). Students must learn to program equations in the spreadsheet, create a spreadsheet where variables can be altered to derive different results, students must be able to plot results using graphic display capabilities of the spreadsheet, students must be able to discriminate data points resulting from direct arriving p-waves (i.e surface waves in this case), reflected p-waves, refracted p-waves on their plots; students must be able to describe why plots of these different phases look the way they do; students must be able to manipulate variables in Snell's Law; .

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

students must learn to plan their actions in constructing the model; students must be able to correctly program equations in the spreadsheet; reflection and refraction equations are relatively complex when programmed in Excel; students learn to carefully step through equation programming and check their output to ensure model is working properly; students must be able to convert data from degrees to radian measure; students must be able to determine why their final plots look the way they do and relate these plots to the simple schematic of their Earth structure; students must be able to derive trigonometric relations from the schematic for the lab.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Please refer to uploaded file.
Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills

Determining whether students have met the goals

All students are given the same initial data, so all students should produce the same results. These are compare to my key.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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