Teach the Earth > Hydrogeology > Hydrogeology, Soils, Geochemistry 2013 > Teaching Activities > Hydrogeology Research Project

Hydrogeology Research Project

Tara Kulkarni, Norwich University

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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: Jun 6, 2013


This activity is for students to work in teams (2012) or individually (2013) to develop a project (such as a physical or numerical model), survey based research, case study, technical briefs on a remediation technology, etc. of the students' choice, based on their understanding of and interest in the subjects covered in the class. This is used in the GL 199 Hydrogeology course, which is offered through the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Norwich University. This is an experimental course that has not made it to the course catalogue as yet. It is currently offered to students majoring in Geology, with an acknowledgement that a course in hydrogeology is a desirable component of a Geology curriculum. Environmental Science students are encouraged to take it to deepen their understanding of subsurface processes. This course is considered a science elective for Civil and Environmental Engineering majors, and greatly complements the Hydrology, and Soils and Materials classes that are a part of the regular CE&E curriculum. Students from freshmen through seniors across these three majors are accepted into the course.
With a cross section of majors and academic years in the class, it was determined that a project that has students thinking about a topic of their choice and developing fundamental research and collaboration skills is critical to meeting common workplace demands.



The GL 199 Hydrogeology course covers the basic principles of groundwater flow, including its development, and protection as a natural resource, and the assessment and remediation of groundwater contamination. Students in the course are assigned a choice between working on a project, paper, or a technical brief as a key component of the course. It is a semester long project and accounts for 20% of their course grade. It involves research, writing, and presentation as integral aspects, with analysis, computational modeling and physical (scale or not to scale) model building as optional aspects.
In the two years this course has been offered, this work has been assigned as a team activity in the first year, to encourage conversation and collaboration between the various majors that take this course (Geology, Environmental Science, and Civil and Environmental Engineers), and as an individual effort in the second year.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

As this is a mix of all four years of students and three different majors, students of different skills and motivations take this class. For this activity, students must have developed a basic understanding of the important hydrogeological concepts and their applications in water source management (including finding new sources) and groundwater contamination and remediation. They should be able to define all the terms and their contexts correctly, and solve simple numerical problems based on basic equations such as Darcy's law, and flow in confined and unconfined aquifers and into and out of wells in such aquifers. They should be able to do basic research, by locating information from reliable sources, and citing these correctly and also synthesize and process such information and present it in writing and in an oral presentation to the class.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity accounts for 20% of the grade in the class. It is a big piece of the course and spans over most of the semester (with the help of several intermittent deadlines).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Content goals are dependent on the choice of the student's topic. However, I help students narrow down broad topics and we then discuss specific content goals for each topic.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

After determining the broad topic, students perform a wide literature review and schedule an appointment to meet with me to narrow down their topic. The higher order thinking skills include all of the ones listed above such as analyzing data, formulating a hypothesis, relating research findings to lessons from the classroom, determining applications of classroom concepts, developing models (physical, numerical, or computational), and synthesizing all the information into a coherent end product.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students worked in multidisciplinary groups (2012) and individually (2013). Clear instructions on acceptable research sources were provided. An oral presentation was required in addition to a PowerPoint (and brief notes in 2012) and a PowerPoint and 10-page paper (2013).
The presentations had to follow the NSF's triangle format for presentations.

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity is for an individual paper (2013) on a topic of the student's choice.

Research Project in Hydrogeology (Acrobat (PDF) 123kB Jun6 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I tried the group approach in 2012 (where students worked in multi-disciplinary teams) and wanted to contrast that with this 2013 model of individual work, to determine the best fit. I must note that each worked well for the audience and class composition. The key is to meet constantly with the students and help them evolve their ideas into something that can be accomplished and completed well in the given time frame.


Students were assessed for various aspects of the activity and points were allocated for each portion. The presentations were also assessed using a peer review format.

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