Pedagogy in Action > Library > Professional Communications Projects > Examples of Professional Communication Projects > The Pet Rock Project - Developing Professional Communication in a Petrology Course

The Pet Rock Project - Developing Professional Communication in a Petrology Course

Darrell Henry, Professor of Geology and Geophysics, Louisiana State University

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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

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This page first made public: Nov 6, 2009

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


The pet rock project is an almost semester-long project in which students randomly select a rock and follows all of the steps a petrologist would take to interpret a rock from a known area (Beartooth Mountains, MT and WY). After preliminary input from the instructor, each student presents the revised results of this study in a written form comparable to a professional journal article, and in an oral format comparable a presentation at professional meeting.

Learning Goals

GEOL 3041\2009-PetrologyLabStudents

Petrology students will (1) obtain research experience within the context of the Igneous and Metamorphic petrology class and (2) learn to effectively communicate the results of their research in a written and oral form.

A student should be able to define, interpret, apply and analyze information and concepts related to the following topics:

In addition, because this is a communications-intensive course, a student should be able to:

Context for Use

These projects (notice of intent, project proposal, project report, project review roundtable) are best suited for upper-level, capstone courses. Students should be well-versed in their discipline's content-knowledge and research-techniques, so that the emphasis can be placed on the professional communication of the content and research.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Pet Rock Project is designed to give petrology students experience in the petrographic and analytical methods and in the approaches taken by petrologists to solve a petrologic problem. Students will gather their own data and integrate that information into a geological framework to address broader-scale petrology questions.

The petrology students will use the results of the data that they acquired together with the background literature for the area to communicate their findings. These results will be presented in written form as if it were intended for a professional petrology journal and in an oral form comparable to one that could be given at a professional geology meeting.

This project runs in the background of the petrology class during the initial part of the semester while each student acquires the petrologic skills to make more sophisticated interpretations. However, during the semester each student must make continuous progress and follow a series of steps to be able to produce a robust petrologic study. The steps include:

Teaching Notes and Tips

The professional communication assignments are inherently imbedded within a professional scientific research project. A comprehensive description of the major research project with associated communication deliverables is linked below.

GEOL 3041 Pet Rock Project Timeline and Logistics (Acrobat (PDF) 208kB Nov2 09)


The grades are based on performance on a combination of lab and homework exercises, the two lecture exams, oral presentations and written project reports. While the 2 major exams are significantly weighted, the majority of the graded work is on the professional communication projects (Lab reports; Research papers; Oral Presentations), because it is only through true acquisition of the scientific content that these projects can be executed significantly.

The breakdown of weighting of scores is:

The assessment of the oral presentations and project report includes an additional facet to ensure a high level of professionalism on the part of students. They are each responsible for evaluating their peers using the same rubrics (linked below) I use to assess their work. Thoughtful completion of the evaluation rubric is emphasized by incorporating this exercise into the final grades of both the presenter and the evaluator.

GEOL 3041 Oral Presentation Grading Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 31kB Nov2 09)

GEOL 3041 Writing Assignment Grading Rubric (Microsoft Word 64kB Nov5 09)

References and Resources

Identify campus, community, and virtual resources available to students at your institution. Many colleges and universities have Writing across the Curriculum programs, writing labs, speech tutors, and other support centers for academic excellence.

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