Teach the Earth > Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Teaching Activities > Lab 2: Attitude Calculations and Play-Dough

Lab 2: Attitude Calculations and Play-Dough

Kyle Fredrick, California University of Pennsylvania

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This is the second assignment of the semester, but sets up the entire focus for the course. There is an introductory problem set from the Marshak and Mitra text, which will help the students develop work habits for subsequent chapters. The secondary part of the assignment is an optional (Extra Credit) task that most students will do. Students make and bring homemade play dough to class. We "bank" the play dough and use it for several lab exercises during the semester.
One of the early exercises with the play dough is a group exercise in which students create layers and deform them, then they work with other groups to interpret them.



This is for an undergraduate required course in Structural Geology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a basic grasp of trigonometry and algebra. They can use topographic maps effectively. They should have an introductory-level understanding of rock deformation (that it is possible) and how it is measured or recognized at various scales.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first assignment of the course, and leads into subsequent problem sets. The play dough can be completed throughout the course and is used throughout the course to demonstrate structural problems.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Concept goals of the problem set are an introduction to deformation and stresses and measuring deformation in rocks. The play dough goals include deformation mechanisms, kinematic analysis, stress vs. strain, material mechanics (plasticity and brittle/ductile behavior).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students learn to analyze structural features from map view. They formulate hypotheses and can self-evaluate their scientific process.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students improve their visualization skills, working problems backwards and forwards, working in groups, and peer evaluation.

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials include:
Handout provided that details the assignment.
Marshak and Mitra, Methods of Structural Geology, students are required to purchase for the course. The problem set comes directly from the text.
Play dough materials are part of the assignment. Instructor provides first versions of play dough, minimum three colors. Play dough is used to create structural models.
Storage containers, zippered plastic bags work adequately for a few months of play dough storage.
11x17 inch paper as a base for working with play dough.
Fine crafting wire for cutting models and creating cross-sections.

Student Handout - Problem Set 2 (Microsoft Word 11kB Jul11 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The problem set is self-evident.
The play dough activities are free form, and tend to develop over the semester based on the needs and challenges of the students. Early on, I do a lab activity where students create "layer models" and squeeze them to deform them. They are then assigned the task of moving around the room to view, describe, and interpret the models of other groups. Afterwards, we reconvene and students present hypotheses about the formational history of each model. Model creators then reflect on the true details and we discuss the challenges and problems if any exist.


The problem set is graded based on (1) correct answers, (2) correctness of "work" or demonstration of work flow to arrive at answer, (3) level of completeness.
Play dough exercises are ad hoc, and assessments vary. The final lab practicum includes multiple models which students use to interpret a structural problem. The practicum is part of the final exam grade.

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