Geologic Techniques and Problem Solving: A Course for New Majors

submitted by

Karen Grove San Francisco State University
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013
The introductory level course teaches geology majors basic skills in the context of a field-based problem, the integrating theme for the semester, so that they can more rapidly achieve an advanced skill level in their upper-division courses.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 18.4MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

Acquire knowledge about local (San Francisco Bay area) geology

Geologic Skills:
Be able to collect basic field data; use topographic maps and aerial photographs; create geologic maps and cross sections

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Be able to read basic geologic journal articles and consider societal implications of geoscience investigations

Other Skills:
be able to write a clear, accurate report
be able to write a clear, accurate report about observations; be able to use online database search tools (e.g., Georef); be able to work with a group to investigate a problem and present results in an oral format


Instructional Level:
Undergraduate entry level for geology majors

Skills Needed:
The prerequisite for the course is an introductory geology course

Role of Activity in a Course:
A weekend field trip is the central integrating theme for the entire 15-week semester

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
(1) Brunton campass-students require much practice to become skilled users; (2) Web browser software-students quickly learn to use search tools for online databases; (3) Topographic maps and aerial photos-students quickly learn basic skills

Logistical Challenges:
Finding a local field site with stratigraphy and structure that is interesting but not too complex


Evaluation Goals:
I want to know that students have the: (1) ability to collect basic field data; (2) ability to write a clear, concise geologic report; (3) ability to articulate geologic information

Evaluation Techniques:
I have the same students in my Sed/Strat class one year later. I have observed that, since adding the techniques course to the curriculum, students in Sed/Strat are more comfortable in the field and can more rapidly achieve an advanced writing level. I now require the students in Sed/Strat to write a field report that involves high-level interpretations and that integrates information from the geologic literature with their own observations. Before, I had to start at a more basic level.


Before the class field trip, students learn preparatory skills: how to use a Brunton compass, basic rock identification, the basics of topographic maps, and how to collect field notes. During a weekend trip to a local site, students collect stratigraphic and structural field data. After returning from the field, students learn how to write a geologic report, how to prepare illustrations (cross sections and geologic maps), and how to use aerial photographs to get more information about a field site. The first draft of their report is reviewed by the instructor and the second draft is reviewed by a peer (another student). Concurrently, the class is divided into groups, each of which chooses a specific problem related to the field area to investigate in greater depth. They learn to use online database tools to find articles related to their topic and work together as a team to develop an oral presentation. The final class period is a symposium modeled after a professional conference. Each group prepares an abstract and annotated bibliography that is provided to all class members. Each group presents the results of their investigations to the class in an oral format. As a result of completing this course, students are better prepared for their upper division courses that require them to complete field investigations, as well as written and oral reports.