Active field experiences to engage undergraduate majors and non-majors

submitted by

LeeAnn Srogi and Tim Lutz Dept. of Geology/Astronomy
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004
Non-majors (Lutz): students collect & analyze data from campus field trips in intro geology labs. Majors (Srogi): students plan & implement research involving field site.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 9.4MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

Non majors (Lutz): hydrologic cycle, surface water behavior
Majors (Srogi): intrusion and crystallization of Mesozoic diabase near Birdsboro, PA

Geologic Skills:
Non majors (Lutz): contour maps, analyzing runoff paths, observing surface water processes within campus watershed
Majors (Srogi): planned and implemented collection of oriented samples; measured some structures; located contact between diabase/hornfels/country rock

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Both: developed and tested hypotheses; synthesized field experiences & observations with background knowledge in report
Majors (Srogi): articulated research questions and hypotheses; planned sample collection to test hypotheses; evaluated hypotheses using samples from field site

Other Skills:
Both: essay writing, data collection
Majors (Srogi): polarizing light microscope and SEM-EDS used to analyze thin sections of samples collected


Instructional Level:
Lutz: undergraduate entry level
Srogi: undergraduate major, senior level

Skills Needed:
Majors (Srogi): rock and mineral identification and classification; major theories of igneous rock formation/magma crystallization

Role of Activity in a Course:
Non-majors (Lutz): laboratories integrated with introduction to geology course
Majors (Srogi): field work is foundation for multi-week research projects which are central activities of Petrology course

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
Non-majors (Lutz): maps, leveling sticks, yarn, popsicle sticks -- easy to make and use
Majors (Srogi): maps of quarry, GPS unit(s), tapes, hardhats, digital camera(s); polarizing light microscopes, SEM-EDS for mineral analyses after field work -- some training for field trip; more training for microscope work

Logistical Challenges:
Non-majors (Lutz): organizing effective work for 25-30 people in 110 minutes
Majors (Srogi): access and travel to quarry; preparation of oriented thin section chips; rapid turnaround time for thin sections ($$$); instruction and analysis using SEM-EDS outside class time


Evaluation Goals:
Non-majors (Lutz): How do students understand the geologic aspects of their environment after these field experiences?
Majors (Srogi): Can students design research to pose and test hypotheses? What do students understand about how magma crystallizes? Can students use evidence from thin sections and mineral compositions to test hypotheses of magma crystallization processes?

Evaluation Techniques:
Non-majors (Lutz): Portfolios including lab write-ups and reflective essays.
Majors (Srogi): Research proposal and final report of results and conclusions.


Field experiences that engage undergraduates in problem-solving have positive outcomes at both introductory and upper levels. At the introductory level, University and Department learning goals include students being able to: employ quantitative concepts and methods, think critically and analytically, comprehend and apply basic principles of earth science, understand the interactions among science, technology, and society, better understand the dynamic behavior of material and energy, and develop a lifelong interest in earth science. The (mostly) non-major students enrolled in a typical introductory geology course investigate the campus and regional geologic environment through multi-week lab modules. Field trips are conducted around campus each lab, and build from an early show-and-tell trip to pique student interest, to activities in which students make measurements, collect and analyze data, and make and test hypotheses. Students compile weekly handouts and a summary essay into a lab portfolio. Examples of student behaviors and portfolios for the Water module will be presented.

Students in an upper-level petrology course are department majors; roughly half are in the B.S.Ed. program to become secondary teachers. The course learning goals are that students will be able to carry out an investigation of igneous and metamorphic rocks using modern methods of qualitative and quantitative analysis, and propose a logical and reasonable explanation for their data based on a sound understanding of scientific principles and petrologic theories. Field trips in which students make and test hypotheses, map and collect samples for further research support the learning goals and may be more meaningful to students with little intrinsic interest in petrology. We have sufficient exposures of rocks within easy driving distance, meaningful unanswered questions at the appropriate level for students, and analytical instruments including XRD and an SEM with EDS at West Chester. In fall 2004, field observations will guide the development of a proposal for research that students then conduct in class; and they will be the ground truth that students must explain along with petrographic and geochemical data in their final research report. Examples from fall 2004 student portfolios and reflections will be presented.