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Observations and Measurements for Understanding Isostasy

This activity is a product of a team of higher education faculty from the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership based at Western Washington University. The lead author of Cycle 2 is Susan DeBari. Also on the team are Scott Linneman, Jennifer Bachman, Bernie Dougan, Ben Fackler-Adams, Robert Mitchell, Terri Plake and Brad Smith.

This activity has benefited from input from a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop. Workshop participants were provided with a set of criteria against which they evaluated each others' activities. For information about the criteria used for this review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/teacherprep/workshops/workshop07/activityreview.html.

This page first made public: Nov 9, 2007


This sample is the second of five learning cycles in the Investigating the Flow of Matter and Energy in Earth Systems curriculum. The sample is a sequence of activities starting with elicitation of the student's initial ideas about making observations of Earth processes, activities leading to a functional understanding of density and buoyancy, and finally application of these ideas to isostacy and global topography.

Learn more about the course for which this activity was developed.

Learning Goals

In this cycle, students should improve their observation and measuring skills as they develop a functional understanding of the concepts of density/buoyancy and how they apply to our understanding of Earth's topography. They are expected to differeniate observations from inferences. They practice explaining their ideas in writing and in conversation in small groups and with the whole class.

Context for Use

The SCED202 class is limited to 24 students. The students are in their 1st or 2nd year at the university and most are interested in being elementary teachers. The class meets for 2 hours three times a week, during which there are only activities and discussions (no lecture). The cycle in the sample takes approximately 6 two-hour sessions to complete.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The keys to successfully facilitating this sequence of activities are:
  1. avoid your urge to tell– this curriculum is about students THINKING to learn;
  2. students must be comfortable expressing their ideas in writing and in public, even if their ideas are naive, incomplete or erroneous;
  3. students must be willing to explain their thinking in writing, even knowing that such writing will not be evaluated by the instructor;
  4. student are best grouped heterogeneously into groups of 3
  5. white boarding protocol calls for all students in the presenting group to stand and be accountable for what's on the whiteboard;

Teaching Materials

This sample includes lists of all materials used in the activities. The document is labeled as a SAMPLE because the materials are undergoing pilot testing and revision before publication.
SCED202 Cycle 2 from the Student Manual (Acrobat (PDF) 2.1MB Apr13 07)


We assess student learning continuously by listening to and guiding their small and large group discussions, reading their end-of-cycle learning reflections and test responses. The questions on the test are similar to those that appear as summarizing questions in the curriculum.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geophysics
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use

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