On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Innovative Approaches to Teaching Sedimentary Geology, Geomorphology, and Paleontology
University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN
Cutting Edge > Sedimentary Geology > Sedimentology, Geomorphology, and Paleontology 2014 > Teaching Activities > Landscape Evolution Debate

Landscape Evolution Debate

Amanda Schmidt, Oberlin 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: May 27, 2014

Summary

Students are assigned to read one of the three papers on tectonic geomorphology (landscape evolution) published by Nature in 2003 (Burbank et al., Dadson et al., and Reiners et al.). All also read the editorial by Molnar from the same issue. They work with others who read the same paper to understand the paper and then jigsaw into new groups to discuss the similarities and differences between the papers and to see if they can come to any conclusions about major drivers on landscape evolution.

Context

Audience

This is used towards the end of the semester in a required undergraduate course on geomorphology. The only pre-requisite for the class is Physical Geology, so it has students ranging from first to fourth year in it.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have some experience reading primary literature (not a ton, but at least some) and have learned a bit about landscape evolution and feedbacks between climate, tectonics, and erosion. They need to be comfortable with basic erosion processes.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand alone exercise in the week on landscape evolution. It takes place in one 80 min class with students reading a paper before class.

Goals

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 assigned to read the Molnar editorial and one of the three papers from Nature in 2003 (Burbank et al., Dadson et al., and Reiners et al.) before class. I start out with a brief introduction to how the class is going to work (about 5 minutes).

For the first part of class (approximately 25 minutes), they work with others who read the same paper to understand the paper. What are the aims of the paper, what were their methods, what data did they collect, what are the results, how do they interpret the results? I go around and answer questions from each group and help them to stay on target with their discussions.

After 25 minutes or so I have all the groups count off so that there will be new groups of 3 (one person is an expert on each paper) and groups shuffle to form new groups. In the new groups, each student presents his/her paper (the one they read) and answers questions from the group. After all students have done this (about another 20-25 minutes), they have a discussion on the similarities and differences between the papers. What can they draw from each paper? How is each paper limited? Are there any overarching conclusions they can draw about landscape evolution? (This takes about 10-15 minutes).

As discussion is winding down, I have the class come back together for a final discussion. Groups report on what they talked about and I give them some context of more modern work that has been done. I use Henck et al. 2011 for some context of one way to reconcile the papers, but any number of more recent papers would work. That is just the one I happen to use (disclaimer: I wrote the paper, it just came out right around the time I changed my name). I don't have them read it - I just explain it to them.

This could easily include a writing assignment by having groups write abstracts for the papers they read and by having them do a reflection paper after class.

Burbank, D. W., Blythe, A. E., Putkonen, J., Pratt-Sitaula, B., Gabet, E., Oskin, M., Barros, A., and Ojha, T. P., 2003, Decoupling of erosion and precipitation in the Himalayas: Nature, v. 426, no. 6967, p. 652-655.

Dadson, S. J., Hovius, N., Chen, H., Dade, W. B., Hsieh, M. L., Willet, S. D., Hu, J. C., Horng, M. J., Chen, M. C., Stark, C. P., Lague, D., and Lin, J. C., 2003, Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen: Nature, v. 426, no. 11 December 2003, p. 648-651.

Henck, A., Huntington, K. W., Stone, J. O., Montgomery, D. R., and Hallet, B., 2011, Spatial controls on erosion in the Three Rivers Region, southwest China: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 303, p. 71-83.

Molnar, P., 2003, Nature, nurture and landscape: Nature, v. 426, no. 11 December 2003, p. 612-614.

Reiners, P. W., Ehlers, T. A., Mitchell, S. G., and Montgomery, D. R., 2003, Coupled spatial variations in precipitation and long-term erosion rates across the Washington Cascades: Nature, v. 426, no. 6967, p. 645-647.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Due to copyright reasons I cannot upload the papers referenced in this activity. Please contact me if you do not have access to them through your school library.

Assessment

I use a formative assessment of student discussion quality.

References and Resources

Here are full citations for all papers mentioned:

Burbank, D. W., Blythe, A. E., Putkonen, J., Pratt-Sitaula, B., Gabet, E., Oskin, M., Barros, A., and Ojha, T. P., 2003, Decoupling of erosion and precipitation in the Himalayas: Nature, v. 426, no. 6967, p. 652-655.

Dadson, S. J., Hovius, N., Chen, H., Dade, W. B., Hsieh, M. L., Willet, S. D., Hu, J. C., Horng, M. J., Chen, M. C., Stark, C. P., Lague, D., and Lin, J. C., 2003, Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen: Nature, v. 426, no. 11 December 2003, p. 648-651.

Henck, A., Huntington, K. W., Stone, J. O., Montgomery, D. R., and Hallet, B., 2011, Spatial controls on erosion in the Three Rivers Region, southwest China: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 303, p. 71-83.

Molnar, P., 2003, Nature, nurture and landscape: Nature, v. 426, no. 11 December 2003, p. 612-614.

Reiners, P. W., Ehlers, T. A., Mitchell, S. G., and Montgomery, D. R., 2003, Coupled spatial variations in precipitation and long-term erosion rates across the Washington Cascades: Nature, v. 426, no. 6967, p. 645-647.

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