How Did This Landscape Form? A Field-Based Exercise to Enhance Awareness of the Natural Environment
In this activity students will visit a local area and conduct geologic fieldwork in order to ask the question "Why does this landscape look the way it does?" After choosing an area and conducting fieldwork, drawing sketches, and making observations, students will link their observations to published geologic research. Students will present their research in the form of a pre-recorded 3 minute presentation (either powerpoint, video or a combination). Finally, students will recreate the landscape that they studied using edible ingredients. By having students actually go outside and conduct their own fieldwork they hopefully begin to notice and experience geologic processes in their own ecoregion. This can be an important component to developing a sense of place and ultimately, a citizenship of place.
Using geologic evidence to deduce geologic history
Making observations about the natural environment
Learning how to pose a question
Sketching natural features
Linking observations to published geologic history
Context for Use
I often talk to students about the protocol for taking samples and gaining permission to conduct fieldwork on private and public lands. Hammer, chisels, and eye protection can be checked out to the students.
Since a key component of this activity is observation it can be used at any point in the course. I actually do this in a basic form the very first day of class. I break the students up into groups and show them slides of geologic features (a folded mountain belt, an aerial photo of a field of drumlins, mineral thin section for example) and ask them to simply list observations about what they see. Once they start learning more about the processes that created the landforms, they can integrate those ideas into the activity.
Description and Teaching Materials
Teaching Notes and Tips
Students often have trouble finding geologic maps of their area or knowing how to search for a geologic map. They need help in understanding that they need to search a regional area and not focus on a very specific field site. For example if a student's site is Snoqualmie Falls they may need to search for the geologic history of the "Cascade foothills" and not just "Snoqualmie Falls".
Students often have trouble relating the entire geologic history to their site. They often focus on just the most recent and often times glacial history of the site.
I stress to the students that researching and picking a site is one of the most important aspects of the project. I encourage them to do research before heading out into the field. For example, can they find any scholarly articles on the geologic history of their field site or region? Introduce the students to geologic databases such as GEOREF or GEOBASE and explain to them that research is more than just typing a phrase into Google. You might want to schedule a visit from your science librarian to outline the steps for conducting scientific research. The science librarian at Seattle University has set up a research guide for environmental science which helps students to find scholarly articles and search databases. The Seattle University research guide can be viewed here:
An instructor or student-made video that actually shows what an appropriate field site is would be helpful for the students when picking their own site. A video that uses local examples of appropriate and inappropriate field sites should help. Even though the assignment explains what a rock outcrop is, students have trouble understanding this.
It is up to you whether you want to show the students examples of past work (student sketches or presentations). Students often don't understand what "include a scale" means in sketches or photos. I sketch on the board an example of an overview sketch and a detailed sketch. I also take them outside so that they can practice making overview and detailed sketches of rocks on campus.
A variation of this activity is to look at the relationship between the geologic origin of the site and the built environment and have the students figure out for themselves why, for example, houses aren't built on impermeable clay.
Name + picture, date, location = 3 points
Sketches w/scale included = 15 points
Photos with details described = 5 points
Observations and site description = 17 points
Proposed geologic history = 15 points
Geologic map = 7 points
References = 5 points
Presentation quality, flow = 18 points
Edible landscape creativity + accurateness = 15 points
References and Resources
http://www.usgs.gov/ USGS website. A starting place for students to search for geologic maps.
http://www.lib.washington.edu/maps/ University of Washington Map Library. Useful information on where to find geologic maps.
http://geomapnw.ess.washington.edu/ The Pacific Northwest Center for Geologic Mapping Studies.
http://pugetsoundlidar.ess.washington.edu/ Puget Sound LIDAR Consortium.