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Activity descriptions for teaching geoscientific thinking

These activity descriptions were submitted by faculty in preparation for the Teaching the Methods of Geoscience workshop in June 2012. In some cases, participants submitted a supplement calling out the ways in which the activities explicitly addressed teaching geoscientific thinking for a course they had previously submitted.

If you would like to add to this collection by contributing an activity, please fill out the Activity Submission Form or the Activity Supplement Form if you wish to supplement an activity you have previously submitted.


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Exploring Evidence of Plate Tectonics Using GeoMapApp
Sean Cornell, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
This activity requires students to explore a range of datasets that help substantiate Plate Tectonic Theory. Students investigate plate tectonic environments (convergent, divergent, transform boundaries), topography/bathymetry of continents and ocean basins, the distribution and pattern of earthquakes, the distribution of volcanoes, as well as ages of the sea-floor, and more.

My Geologic Address: Locating Oneself in Geologic Time and Process
Kip Ault, Lewis and Clark College
Students locate their homes on local, regional, and global scale geologic maps. They build up an "address" describing their location in geological terms based on the features of the maps, from local bedrock to regional and global tectonic features.

Transport of heavy metals in the Clark Fork River
Kathleen Harper, University of Montana-Missoula, The
This is an activity about transport of sediment contaminated by copper, arsenic, and other heavy metals that was deposited into the Clark Fork River channel as the result of historical mining activity. The Clark Fork River between Butte and Milltown, Montana has been the focus of several large superfund projects designed to address the impacts of this legacy of mining in the watershed. This activity is used in an introductory physical geology lab (primarily non-majors) with students who may have limited experience working with quantitative analysis and analyzing graphs.

Measuring the Campus Green
Paul Vincent, Valdosta State University
Students use basic tools to measure the size of one-quarter acre.

Discovering the Principles of Relative Age Determination – a Think-Pair-Share In-Class Activity
James Ebert, SUNY College at Oneonta
In this in-class activity, students are challenged to identify rock units and geologic features and determine the relative ages of these features without prior instruction in the classical methods of relative age determination.

Accuracy, Precision, and Topographic Data
Scott Linneman, Western Washington University
This jigsaw style exercise challenges new geomorphology students to collect topographic data and analyze its accuracy and precision.

Reasons for the Seasons
Jeff Thomas, Central Connecticut State University
The inquiry method and meteorological and astronomical online data can be used to elicit the inconsistencies of students' naïve ideas about the "real" reasons for the seasons. The first phase of this two-part investigation uses online meteorological data to identify factors that might explain differences of seasonal temperatures among cities These factors are used to hypothesize why differences of seasonal temperatures occur among cities. During the second phase, the variables and hypotheses that were previously identified in part one are used to design and conduct an inquiry-oriented investigation. Astronomical data is used as part of the investigation to "test" students' hypotheses— conclusions are drawn then communicated.

Calculating the radius of the Earth
Basil Tikoff, UW Madison
Science students often have difficulty thinking about large spatial scales. The purpose of the exercise is to redo Eratosthenes' calculation of the radius of the Earth using data from to sites in ancient Egypt. The excercise teaches about the methodology of science - how Eratothenes figured it out - rather than worried about what the "right" answer is. It can also be used to discuss the role of models in geological thinking.

Evaluating the lines of evidence for plate tectonics
Becca Walker, Mt. San Antonio College
In this in-class exercise, students compare several lines of evidence that support the ideas of continental drift and plate tectonics. Before the class meeting, each student is given a preparation assignment in which he/she studies one "continental drift" and one "ocean floor data" map. In class, students divide into teams of 3, with each team member having prepared different specialties. They discuss their respective maps and look for spatial patterns among the data.

Energy Balance Game
Bob Mackay, Clark College
This online game activity introduces students to Earth's radiative energy balance. It also explores the use of a simple climate model in the attribution of climate change.

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