Cutting Edge > Sedimentary Geology > Teaching Activities > Chemical and Physical Weathering Field and Lab Experiment: Development and Testing of Hypotheses

Chemical and Physical Weathering Field and Lab Experiment: Development and Testing of Hypotheses

Lisa Greer
,
Washington and Lee University
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Summary

This exercise combines an integrated field and laboratory experiment with a significant scientific writing assignment to address chemical and physical weathering processes via hypothesis development, experimental design, and data collection.

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Context

Audience

Upper level undergraduate course in sedimentary geology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be familiar with basic concepts related to chemical and physical weathering processes, and must be comfortable with the scientific method, reading geologic and topographic maps, and scientific writing. The rest (field and analytical methods) can be learned during the exercise.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise is given early in the course as the second in a series of written field/lab experiments but could serve a s a stand-alone exercise.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

To understand the basic principles, rates, and processes of chemical and physical weathering in a quantitative and qualitative manner.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Hypothesis development and testing, critical thinking, and experimental design development are all goals of this exercise.

Other skills goals for this activity

Scientific writing, data collection and expression, and collaborative work are important components of this exercise.

Description of the activity/assignment

The primary purpose of this exercise is to learn about chemical and/or physical weathering rates and processes via a self-designed experiment. A second, but important, goal of this exercise is to introduce students to all aspects of the scientific process via a mini-research experience. As such, the instructions for the exercise are somewhat open-ended and specific outcomes can vary widely depending on the focus of each student working group.

This exercise is presented in two parts (chemical and physical weathering). Students break into groups that focus on one type of weathering and then share results with the other working groups at the termination of the project period. First, students use geologic and topographic maps to create hypotheses concerning the nature (composition, grain size distribution, sorting, shape, etc.) of sediments that will be found at several pre-determined field locations. They then design an experiment or data collection protocol to test their hypotheses using samples collected from the field (alternately, students could be given samples to work with). Students are responsible (with guidance when needed) for all aspects of the experiment and often must learn to adapt field and analytical data collection techniques throughout the project period.

The exercise culminates in a scientific paper that is rigorously edited by the instructor and a presentation to other student working groups in the classroom. A discussion of 'lessons learned' can be very valuable at this time as results must be presented in a larger context (does this 'fit' with what you learn in your textbook?).

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based primarily on the final paper, but also on observation of students in the field and lab and regularly scheduled meetings with each working group.

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