Writing A Book Synopsis for Oceanography
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
Students are asked to read instructor-selected popular science books and write a synopsis of the book that relates the book topic to topics discussed in class. In large lecture courses, this is an extra credit assignment; few students do this assignment in this context (~25%). For small courses, particularly majors in the introductory class, this is a required assignment.
If the student hands in the synopsis in a timely fashion, the instructor will read it, make suggestions for improvement, and encourage the student to re-write.
The purpose of this assignment for large lecture courses is two-fold: it should deepen students' understanding of the topics covered in the books; it should help reduce student anxiety over test-taking in a science course and science in general. For text-taking anxiety, students have the opportunity to improve their grades through writing rather than taking an exam; for science anxiety in general, the books are selected to provide a fun as well as useful read of how science is done.A set of instructions and a grading rubric are supplied with Supporting Materials.
Handout for Students incl Instructions and Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB May28 13)
Teaching Notes and Tips
Two factors may have contributed to these initial negative results for the large course: 1) having the assignment as an extra credit effects a selection process. Anecdotally, students who were anxious about their grades undertook this assignment; 2) There was a lack of explicit instruction on what was expected for the writing assignment. Many students wrote on irrelevancies such as the author's writing style and whether they, the student, enjoyed reading the book. Nearly all students chose not to re-write; their first expositions read like first drafts. The activity has been re-written with more explicit student instruction and inclusion of a grading rubric. The instructions now provide students with guiding questions to consider as they read and think about writing their synopsis.
A rubric is supplied for the students demonstrating how the writing assignment is graded. For large lecture courses where this is an extra credit assignment, students earn up to 3 points on their final grade for a well-written synopsis that demonstrates understanding of the reading and connection of the topic to course topic(s).For small majors classes, three synopses count for 15% of the final course grade. The rubric can be adjusted accordingly.