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Teaching stable isotopes

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Steven R. Dunn Mount Holyoke College
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This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

This is a reading assignment in three parts, with problem sets for each part. Part 1 is introductory, part 2 explains isotopic effects of volatilization and fluid flow during metamorphism, and part 3 uses data from the Alta contact aureole, Utah, as an example of the processes.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Oct31 03)

Learning Goals

Content/Concepts:

Higher Order Thinking Skills:

drawing conclusions from data and information of different types. Comparing complex models to a data set.

Other Skills:

Algebraic manipulation, reading and interpretting current literature.

Context

Instructional Level:

undergraduate majors, sophomore/juniors.

Skills Needed:

It helps if they've already had some background on contact metamorphism and mineral reactions in the impure dolomite system.

Role of Activity in a Course:

This is a fairly stand alone unit in the fourth week of the semester. I've given it one week and two weeks. It works most effectively in two weeks. The processes covered come up again and again later in the semester, so this unit reinforces later units.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

Excel spreadsheet is used, but could be optional.
A suite or a few samples from Alta would greatly enhance the unit, but impure dolomite marble of various grades from any locale can work as well.

Logistical Challenges:

Grading the students' attempts at the mathematical assignments can take time if you look for their errors. I hand out the answers and ask them to see me if they still don't get it. Some students are so math-challenged that this can be time-consuming.

Evaluation

Evaluation Goals:

Some student love this unit, others hate it. I'd like to know if they really learn some petrology!

Evaluation Techniques:

Work in progress.

Description

This is a reading assignment in three parts, with problem sets for each part. Part 1 is introductory, part 2 explains isotopic effects of volatilization and fluid flow during metamorphism, and part 3 uses data from the Alta contact aureole, Utah, as an example of the processes. Using stable isotopes as the tool, students learn about several geological processes and how data can, and cannot, be used to distinguish between different conceptual models.