Earth Materials

Dawn Cardace
, or

University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Earth Materials is here designed under a core-to-crust concept umbrella covering content spanning mineralogy/petrology/Earth processes, embracing active learning, collaborative learning, process of science/research, writing/presentation skills, and field experiences. Contextualizing geological content with case studies, local/regional/global geology, human uses of the Earth, and a sense of how Earth evolves over time is paramount.

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Course Context:

This is a core course for Geo majors, Earth Materials. It has aspects of classical mineralogy, petrology, and Earth history courses. Prerequisites are intro geology, first semester chemistry. This course has a required four-hour laboratory, a required ~6-hr Museum visit, and a two-day field trip.

Course Goals:

  • G1- For a local field site, students will formulate a hypothesis-driven research plan in mineralogy, taking advantage of appropriate analytical techniques in mineralogy and geochemistry, achievable within a semester time frame.
  • G2- Students will be able to interpret a combination of new x-ray diffraction (XRD), x-ray fluorescence (XRF), TEM, and/or SEM data given related information regarding geological setting, hand sample physical properties, thin section analysis, and literature review in order to define the mineral assemblages, sample provenance, relevance to regional geology, and environmental implications.
  • G3- Students will be able to integrate their research findings with those of peers in developing a consensus model that (a) explains mineral occurrences and interplay (micro- and macroscopic) in field samples, and (b) holds up to public scrutiny (as a consensus model and as individual components) at a departmental mini-poster symposium.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Course activities and structure are designed to promote student-led inquiry through individual and group work. Research learning and consensus interpretations of field specimens build content, analytical skills, quantitative reasoning, presentation skills. Assessment of student achievements comprises formative, summative, reflective components.

Skills Goals

  • oral and visual communication
  • accessing and critically reading the geologic literature
  • working in groups/collaborative learning

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Respectful peer interactions build community and stronger interpretive power. Every activity that we tackle together will take steps in this direction. I envision rubrics for all assignments to have a component related to these skills, plus self-reporting: skills/attitudinal journaling check in/check out to the class, a low key pre- and post-test (that really is no test), to get at how students think about these points.

Attitudinal Goals

  • building students' confidence in course- or discipline-related abilities
  • improving students' sense of healthy skepticism
  • developing students' sense of the Earth as a planet, in terms of planetary geology/planetary formation processes/planetary evolution

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

These are concepts to be woven through the curriculum, made explicit on day one, revisited periodically and at the conclusion of the course. These may also figure in a check-in check-out activity (the pre- and post-tests that are not tests!). I like lab notebooks that really show how thought evolves over time, so may wrap these check-in check-out activities into laboratory assignments. Why not?


This is a constant work in progress.

In general, I work with a combination of conventional formative, summative assessments (quizzes), plus practical examples of achievements (lab notebooks = learning portfolios), pre- and post-tests, journaling/blogging. I intend to rely heavily on Earth Science Concept Inventory for raw material, and on rubrics demanding higher order thought. I also listen and respond to student comments on their learning progress


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Jun7 10)

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