Spreadsheets across the Curriculum: The Physical Volcanology Collection

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

The Physical Volcanology Collection consists of nine modules developed by Chuck Connor (University of South Florida) and Peter LaFemina (The Pennsylvania State University) for their respective courses. The modules are patterned after the SSAC style and pedagogical approach. The intent of the modules is to teach the volcanology content, and less so the embedded mathematics.


Like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and sea-level rise, volcanoes can disrupt our lives. Geology students are fortunate because they can learn about these imposing and fascinating structures and get college credit for it. Probably all geologists sooner or later walk on the slopes of a volcano. Many get to see one erupt.

Introductory concepts about the nature of volcanoes, volcanism and volcanic rocks are taught in introductory geology courses. The subject is covered again, largely with a geochemistry underpinning, in igneous petrology courses. Increasingly, volcanology is taught as a senior-level elective. Generally in such courses, the focus is on the physics of the subject.

Modern physical volcanology includes such topics as the physical properties and behavior of magma; fluid flow in conduits, buoyant plumes, and lava flows; the role of bubbles in ascending magmas; the effect of water on the properties of the magma; the generation and dispersal of pyroclastic falls and flows; and, of course, volcanic hazards and volcano monitoring.

The Physical Volcanology Collection

Chuck Connor and Peter LaFemina imported the idea of SSAC modules to their courses in physical volcanology at the University of South Florida and Penn State, respectively. They wrote modules and used them for part of the laboratory component of their courses.

The physical volcanology modules, which follow the SSAC format closely, differ somewhat in purpose from traditional SSAC modules of the General Collection. Whereas the purpose of traditional SSAC modules is to teach QL content in the context of the disciplines, the main intent of the volcanology modules is to teach the context itself, bringing in the mathematical and quantitative skills as appropriate. Because the subject of physical volcanology is a quantitative one, however, the experience for the students became very much a challenging program in mathematical problem solving, which gave these junior and senior geology students plenty of opportunity to increase their mathematical know-how and elevate their quantitative literacy. Access to the modules

Implementation at USF

. GLY 4390, Section 3. Physical Volcanology, 4 credits, Connor. Learn more here

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