How to be a field geologist: an in-class exercise to introduce students to basic outcrop analysis

Becca Walker
,
Department of Earth Sciences and Astronomy, Mount San Antonio College
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Summary

This in-class exercise is designed to give students practice analyzing outcrops before they go on a field trip. First, students watch a short video tutorial on analyzing an outcrop. Then, they are given a color photograph of an outcrop and a hand sample and complete a field notebook entry for the outcrop.

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Context

Audience

This exercise is for students who are new/relatively new to analyzing outcrops. I use this activity in introductory courses designed primarily for non-science majors, including Earth science lab and field studies of Central California. I will begin using a modified version in physical geology this fall.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have completed rock and mineral identification labs.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is completed approximately 1 week before the field trip.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Understand the steps involved in analyzing a geologic outcrop.
  • Make detailed rock descriptions using appropriate geologic vocabulary.
  • Estimate the height of a geologic outcrop.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Determine which outcrop characteristics are important to observe and note.
  • Formulate a hypothesis about the geologic history of a field area using large and small-scale observations.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Make systematic entries in a field notebook.

Description of the activity/assignment

Analyzing an outcrop for the first time is challenging for many students. In an effort to prepare students for their field trip, this exercise gives students practice with basic outcrop analysis before going into the field. Although this exercise is not a substitute for a field experience, it requires students to think about what they should be observing and noting at an outcrop before visiting an actual field site. First, students watch a short video tutorial on analyzing an outcrop. Then, they are given a color photograph of an outcrop and a hand sample and complete a field notebook entry for the outcrop.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I use a checklist-style rubric to evaluate whether or not students included all of the required items in their field notebook entry. I provide students with written feedback on (if applicable) which elements of their field notebook entry were satisfactory, which were missing, and which need additional detail. Students are able to take their practice field notebook entry, along with my comments, on the field trip to use as a model for their field notes.

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