Revisiting nearby outcrops to build depth in understanding: A technique for building transferable field observation and interpretation skills

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Kate Pound Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Dept., St. Cloud State University
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This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004
Field trips in introductory-level geology classes revisit the same outcrop to emphasize newly-learned concepts, build depth in understanding, and address student misconceptions.

Learning Goals

Two areas (Ordovician Rocks on the Mississippi River Bluffs, and Igneous rocks of Quarry Park, St. Cloud) are used to illustrate this approach.

Geologic Concepts for sedimentary sequence:
Stratigraphic principles
Sedimentary processes
Stratigraphic correlation

Geologic Concepts for Quarry Park
Intrusive relations
Relative age determination
Relations between silica content and melting/crystallization temperature

Geologic Skills:
Geologic skills-students will be able to:

Mississippi River
Read and use contour lines and topographic maps
Draw a topographic profile
Describe and evaluate weathering profiles in sedimentary rocks
Describe sedimentary rocks
Measure and draw a stratigraphic section
Identify fossils at the phylum-level
Use stratigraphic principles to interpret the order of geologic events
Read a simple geologic map
Write a short concise one-page report that summarizes the geologic history

Quarry Park
Read and use contour lines and topographic maps
Draw a topographic profile
Describe and evaluate weathering features in igneous rocks
Describe igneous rocks, and interpret their cooling rate
Make a simple geologic map
Use intrusive relations to interpret the order of geologic events for igneous rocks
Read a simple geologic map
Write a short concise one-page report that summarizes the geologic history

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Distinguish between observations and interpretations
Interpret observations
Apply theoretical concepts
Question inconsistencies

Other Skills:
Communication skills (writing clearly, drawing sketches, making notes)
Learning to review mistakes and 'redo' work that was not well done


Instructional Level:
Undergraduate entry-level,
Undergraduate major

Skills Needed:
When used at the introductory level the student has only had minimal (or no) pre-teaching of content - but, the idea of revisiting the outcrop provides students that learn better once they have the content an opportunity to learn well.

Role of Activity in a Course:
Part of a sequence of field exercises that are done in an order that moves from the familiar (topography & land surface) to more 'geologic' (stratigraphy, intrusions). I have used all these activities; although I have not followed the same group of students through the Quarry park activity from the intro course to the field course

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
Requires access to one nearby outcrop or field locality that can be adapted for multiple visits

Logistical Challenges:
Organizing the lecture class so that it integrates / builds on the field experience. Finding the balance between preparing the students for the field by pre-teaching content vs. allowing students to 'discover' material. Some students are slow or unwilling to accept that they can learn more by going back to the same locality/outcrop, and need to be actively challenged to make them learn.


Evaluation Goals:
Do the students feel as though they learn better? Do they actually learn better? Can students explain what they learned? Can they apply it to new and different situations?

Evaluation Techniques:
No real assessment done; I only know that the students are better able to explain what they are doing, why, and they have been able to learn from their 'mistakes'; they are also better able to write about the geology than counterparts that have not revisited the outcrop.


Repeated field trips to the same nearby locality are used to build student depth in understanding in both introductory and majors geology courses. The opportunity to revisit the locality allows faculty and students to address student misconceptions that are only recognized when field reports are graded. Field trips emphasize practical skills (quality observations, notes, and interpretations), which are built on in lectures, and allow the students to learn new terminology in context, without the angst associated with new and different field localities. This approach can be used within one single course (Example 1) or across a sequence of courses (Example 2). In both situations this approach moves from examination of more familiar surface features to evaluation of rocks and processes that require higher-level thinking skills.