Spatial Thinking Workbook > Teaching Activities

Teaching Activities

The activities in this collection are designed to help undergraduate geoscience students develop their spatial visualization skills, and particularly their penetrative thinking skills: the ability to visualize spatial relations inside an object. Collectively, these exercises are the Spatial Thinking Workbook.

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Comparing Quartz Polymorphs
Students compare the structures of low-temperature and high-temperature polymorphs of quartz, relating their differences to symmetry and crystal systems.

Understanding Polyhedral Diagrams
Students identify individual polyhedra in a variety of diagrams and answer questions about shared oxygens in diagrams of common silicate structures.

Introduction to 3D Sketching
This activity provides an introduction to 3D sketching. Students sketch a cube, boxes, and cylinders. They watch a video about how to sketch boxes and cylinders, and then sketch a few more.

Sketching 3D Ripples and Dunes
Students watch a video of the instructor sketching 3D ripples, then practice sketching 3D bedforms, both as seen by the viewer and as annotated 3D block diagrams.mpty

Slices Through 3D Objects
Students identify and draw slices through an ice cream cone, a pyramid, and a beverage six-pack.

Deformation Mechanisms and Microstructures
Students match microstructures to the deformation mechanisms by which they form; compare pairs of photomicrographs chosen to highlight key differences between some common microstructures; and complete a self-quiz in which they identify microstructures and infer deformation mechanisms from photomicrographs.

Deciphering Mineral Structure Diagrams
Students compare mineral structures shown in ball-and-stick, space filling, and polyhedral diagrams.

Sketching Block Diagrams
Students watch a video of the instructor sketching two geologic block diagrams (of flat stratigraphy and of an upright anticline), then practice sketching additional geologic block diagrams.

Slicing Fruit
Students identify and draw slices through fruit, as practice for drawing slices through more complex features.

Contractional Strain
Students use gesture to describe the bulk deformation and local deformation apparent in images of a contractional analog experiment. Students then calculate bulk shortening and bulk thickening for the experiment and describe the structures accommodating that strain.

Folds and Cleavage
Students explore the geometric relationship between bedding/cleavage intersections and fold axes for axial planar, fanning, and transecting cleavage.

Slicing Cylinders
Students identify and draw slices through cylinders and partial cylinders, and use gestures to visualize slicing planes. This practice with visualizing slices through idealized geometric shapes is preparation for visualizing slices through geological features.

Slicing Channels
Students examine 3D channel-shaped objects and 2D slices through those objects. The purpose is to get them thinking about how the 3D geometry of a channel is reduced to a random 2D slice through the channel in a typical outcrop, so that they can recognize channel deposits.

Slicing Rocks
Students examine images of a bowl of rocks, then several rock piles, then outcrops of conglomerate and breccia. They sketch slices through the bowl of rocks, match photos of rock piles to sketches of slices through those piles, and then apply what they've learned to describe the conglomerate and breccia.

Slicing Fossils
Students examine images of brachiopods, mollusks, and coquinas. They identify, visualize, and sketch slices through a variety of shelly organisms, then apply what they've learned to identify fossils in several samples of coquina.


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