Geological Map Problem

Robert Filson
Green River Community College
This is a lab activity that is designed to help introductory, non-science majors integrate their geological knowledge near the end of the course. In this activity, students work in self-selected groups of up to four per group on the history of a sketch geological map.

What learning is this evaluation activity designed to assess?

Most of the students in our Physical Geology course are non-science majors. This activity, entitled "The Geological Map Problem", is designed to assess the critical thinking abilities of these students within the context of a geology course. Students use geological data (a sketch geological map and a suite of rock samples) to determine the geological history of the area represented by the map. A quiz over their specific map is the assessment instrument at the end of the activity.

What is the nature of the teaching/learning situation for which your evaluation has been designed?

This activity is designed to assess geological knowledge and critical thinking in a geological context. Students apply their knowledge of hand sample identification, determination of relative age history, and construct of a geological history to the map area.

Students work with 2 or 3 other students in their investigation of the history of the map area. Each person is evaluated individually at the end of the assignment. The communication within the groups is normally excellent.

What advice would you give others using this evaluation?

a) I recommend that the maps be sketch maps rather than real places. I do not want the students to turn this exercise into a library project where they look-up the answers. I want them to go through the steps that a geologist would go through in the construction of the history.

b) There should be 3 or 4 students in a group. If groups are larger than 4 often at least one person in the group is not active. Groups of 2 are satisfactory, but do not have the diversity of thought of groups of 3-4 people. I permit students to select their group members. Students are assigned to groups if they do not select a group.

c) The initial task of the groups is to identify the rock samples from their map area. When I first started using this activity, I helped the groups too much. Pretty soon the students figured out that I would identify all the difficult samples for them. I have learned that the groups work better when I tell them that I will help them with just one sample. As a group they must decide which sample is the most important to them. Normally, the discussions related to the rock types on the map are excellent.

d) I usually give students about 2-3 weeks of lab time for this activity. (Our labs are two hours long.) Sometimes students have to meet outside of class hours and this can be an issue for students at a commuter-type college such as ours.

e) At the end of the activity, students take an individual quiz over their specific map. The students are permitted to use hand-written notes and a copy of their map as they take the quiz. I emphasize that on the quiz they will need to explain how they arrived at answers and to defend answers.

Are there particular things about this evaluation that you would like to discuss with the workshop participants? Particular aspects on which you would like feedback?

This activity is an excellent activity for assessing students' understanding of geological processes, but I would also like to use the student responses from this activity to assess whether our students are meeting our campus-wide "Critical Thinking" outcome. I would like to talk with others who are assessing "critical thinking" outcomes in the geological context.

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