Exploring the building stones of downtown Seattle

Lyn Gualtieri
Seattle University
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Students explore the building stones of downtown Seattle in order to obtain practice in rock identification.

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Introduction to Geology for non-majors. The students in this course range from first year to fourth-year.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Students should have had practice identifying the three rock types in the lab.
  • Students should understand the origin of rock types.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise usually takes place in the second half of the course, after we have covered the three rock types and after students have had labs covering minerals, igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, and metamorphic rocks. This exercise is considered a 3-hour long lab although it is our first expedition off-campus. For urban campuses with a limited lab time, this is a great option to give students practice identifying polished rock samples.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Because the building stones are polished, students gain practice on "real-life" rock identification without the hindrances of small lab samples or weathering effects in the field.
  • Students gain confidence in rock identification.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Sketching rocks
  • Making observations
  • Keeping observations separate from interpretations
  • Identifying rocks based on observations

Other skills goals for this activity

During this field exercise, students work in groups and navigate 2 busy streets and 5 blocks of downtown Seattle and the downtown bus tunnel. Students need to learn to minimize distractions (Starbucks, for example) and concentrate on sketching and taking notes amidst the city life. This exercise is conducted regardless of the weather, so students often have to contend with rain.

Description of the activity/assignment

Most introductory geology students have experience identifying hand-sized rock samples in the lab, but never get to see bigger rock exposures outside the classroom. This activity includes takes students to downtown Seattle, where they observe the geology of the building stones within a few blocks of campus. The exercise exposes students to large, polished rock samples in an area where they are familiar, but might not have noticed the rocks before. For students on urban campuses or online geology classes with a limited amount of lab time this is a useful activity.

Determining whether students have met the goals

While the students are working, I ride my bike around the study area to check in on groups. At the end of the 3 hours we meet and compare sketches, buildings, interpretations. Final assessment is based on neatness and accuracy of colored sketches, level of detail of descriptions, and lastly, interpretation.

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Supporting references/URLs

The Street Smart Naturalist: Fieldnotes from Seattle by David B. Williams

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