Teach the Earth > Complex Systems > Teaching Activities > Coastal Margins Lab

Coastal Margins Lab

Karen McNeal
Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Apr 15, 2010


This project is meant for students to interpret complex data sets that have seasonal and yearly trends in coastal estuarine systems. Through being assigned a task as a EPA consultant and analyzing available data, students must decide between two Texas Estuaries on which estuary should receive continued support and protection from the government.

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Upper-level undergraduate environmental geology course that focuses on the use of GIS and complex data sets in the laboratory portion of the course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have exposure to Excel and be proficient in using GIS. Students must have some background in the role/impact of various nutrients in a estuarine system.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is part of a sequence of exercises that combines inquiry, physical models, and complex data sets.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals of this activity are: (i) to expose students to spatial and temporal trends in nutrient concentrations and estuarine health in a system that is of relevance to them, (ii) build student skills sets in using software analysis packages to better enable them to interpret complex and rich data sets, (iii) to build students synthesis skills in interpreting data sets with multiple variables that are continuously in flux.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will use hypothesis building, data analysis, interpretation, synthesis of data, and evaluation skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will also learn to work in groups, use the WWW, and write a report.

Description of the activity/assignment

Most students understand that water quality is an important issue, however many do not understand the complexity associated with the processes involved, the complex nature of estuarine systems, or the fact that management decisions are made based on available data sets that can be difficult at best to interpret. Students will be provided nutrient data in Excel for two Texas estuaries which they will supplement with additional information that they have compiled on these two estuaries during the duration of the course through a GIS database available to the entire class. Furthermore, students will retrieve information from the WWW to learn more about the specific estuaries and the nutrients of interest and their impacts on the environment.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student reports will be evaluated via a rubric.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Supporting references/URLs

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