Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods > Using Field Labs

Using Field Labs

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This resource received an Accept or Accept with minor revisions rating from a Panel Peer Review process

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.


This page first made public: Nov 10, 2005

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Written by Mary Savina of Carleton College


Images of geoscience students and instructors in the field


Students love field labs! They enjoy being outside and they appreciate the fact that geoscience field labs are unusually tactile and bring them into contact with real, messy (in all senses of that word) problems. For instance, as instructors we may start out with a focus on the lithology at an outcrop, but soon aspects of weathering enter the conversation and the physical "lithosphere" becomes linked to the atmosphere and biosphere. For these reasons, field labs are a great way to draw students into inquiry-based scientific investigations.

What is a field lab?

Field labs are extended (more than one hour), structured, outdoors, scientific investigations aimed at observing, collecting and recording data. Field labs are related to, but distinct from, other interactive investigations carried out in the field, such as student and student-faculty field research, field trips, field lectures, etc. Examples on this page can be modified for shorter (10-15 minute) field observational experiences; see in particular how to find field sites on your campus. Visit the field labs mini-collection for examples

Why use field labs?

Field labs introduce students to complex natural systems, break down barriers among geoscience fields, encourage multiple observations, and introduce students to the geologic history and geography of the area near their campus.
Learn more about the benefits of using field labs

How to use field labs - Logistical and Pedagogical considerations

Length of time available (though field labs can be started in just a few minutes) and accessible areas (though some field labs can be done in practically any outdoor area) are two of the important logistical considerations. Other concerns include access to property, safety, and weather issues. Equipment needs range from items that can be found at any hardware store to specialty items that must be purchased through catalogs or on-line sources.
Logistical considerations - advice for location, transportation, safety, and equipment.

Field labs also invite different pedagogical styles than classroom and indoor lab investigations.
Pedagogical considerations - tips for time considerations, structure, and teaching methods.

Examples of field labs appropriate for introductory geoscience classes

Labs and handouts categorized by geoscience topic. Visit the field labs mini-collection for examples.

For further reading

Relevant articles from the Journal of Geoscience Education and a few helpful textbooks. Read bibliography.

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