Lab using Volcano Scenarios: Hazard Maps and Communicating Risk

LeeAnn Srogi
Department of Geology/Astronomy, West Chester University
This is a lab activity in which small groups of students work with maps, rocks, photographs of volcanic deposits, and textual data to construct a hazard map and a risk communication plan for a specific volcano. Each group is assigned a "volcano scenario," which is based on real volcanoes.

What learning is this evaluation activity designed to assess?

This evaluation activity would be considered a formative assessment, because it is a lab that students complete in order to learn and think about some new material. The specific learning objectives for this lab are that, at the end of this lab, students will be able to:

  1. Correctly identify the type of volcano from the shape and size, or the height and width of the volcano, as measured on a topographic map.
  2. Correctly identify and give field names to extrusive igneous rocks based on texture, color, and minerals present. Use the types of rocks to verify the type of volcano.
  3. Correctly identify volcanic deposits, such as pyroclastic flows, ash falls, and lahars, from pictures.
  4. Identify the specific hazards of a volcano based on the type of volcano, the map, the rock types, the chemical compositions of the rocks, and the eruption history of the volcano.
  5. 5Make a reasonable hazard map for a volcano and provide appropriate explanation.
  6. Make a reasonable plan for communicating the risk of the volcanic hazards.

This lab, along with class discussion questions and a take-home essay question on one exam, is designed to assess student learning objective #4 for the volcanoes course: Students will be able to use geological, demographic, and cultural information to assess risk and discuss strategies for managing risk associated with volcanic hazards.

These student learning objectives in turn connect with goals set by my department for all of our introductory-level courses. Two of these goals are that, by the end of the semester students will: 1) gain a better understanding of science, how scientists work, the meaning of scientific "truth" and the scientific "method," the differences between and the benefits of basic and applied research, the interdisciplinary nature of many scientific endeavors, and the importance of logical reasoning based on available evidence; and 2) comprehend and apply basic principles of earth science, and understand the interactions among science, technology, and society in order to make informed decisions concerning public policy, the environment, and natural resources.

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

ESS 125, Volcanoes, is an introductory-level (first-year college) course taught in spring semesters. The course has a traditional lecture/lab time format, enrolling 60-80 students in two 50-minute lecture periods and one 2-hour lab period every week for 15 weeks. Students are divided into 3 groups for the labs, with an enrollment of 20-28 students in each lab. We do NOT do a survey of volcanoes of the world, but instead focus on how people, especially geologists, interact with volcanoes and volcanic hazards. Lab is a large component of the course, in which students have the opportunity to do what geologists do when confronted with an active volcano: identify volcanic hazards; monitor the volcano; and communicate volcanic risks to stakeholders. In lab, students become familiar with magma properties, topographic and hazard maps (which are very similar to geologic maps), igneous rock and mineral identification, and methods of monitoring active volcanoes. Based on this knowledge, students work in small groups on "volcano scenarios." I made up the volcano scenarios, including simplified topographic maps and eruption histories, samples, photographs, and data (seismic, gas emissions, ground deformation), based on actual volcanoes. This makes the activities more open-ended than if students were studying the real volcanoes, and they can't simply download information from one of the many excellent volcano websites. The lab included here is the first one in which students are introduced to their volcano scenario, and they have to figure out what kind of volcano they have and what previous eruptions have been like, in order to produce a hazard map and a plan for communicating risk to people in the surrounding area. In subsequent labs, students make a monitoring plan for their volcano scenario based on a brief description of volcanic activity, then they get the monitoring data (made-up) that they requested in their plan, revise their plan, and prepare a forecast of future volcanic activity. The multi-week lab sequence culminates with each group making a powerpoint presentation about their volcano scenario to their lab class, in order to persuade the class to commit resources to continue monitoring their volcano.

What advice would you give others using this evaluation?

This lab activity was a little too long for a 2-hour time period, but could be completed in a 3-hour lab period. Since this is an introductory-level course, with no geology or science pre-requisite, most things are made simple (volcano types, the topo maps). However, the process of making the hazard map and the risk communication plan are not simple, and require analysis, synthesis, and judgment. Previous lab and class activities have introduced students to magma properties and explosivity, volcanic hazards, a values framework for understanding human attitudes toward volcanoes, topographic maps, identification of igneous minerals and rocks, and the process of making a hazard map (for the Lassen National Park area). For this lab, students had the most trouble identifying volcanic deposits from the pictures - and in fact it can be difficult to distinguish a debris flow from a pyroclastic flow from a mudflow just from one picture. Next year, I will re-organize this lab and spread the activities over more than 1 lab period.

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 is a new course, taught for the first time this spring, so I am making it up as I go along and I would greatly appreciate any and all advice. I would especially like feedback on the "volcano scenarios" as a method for having students emulate geologists.

Evaluation Materials