Teach the Earth > Geomorphology > Teaching Activities > Humans as Geomorphic Agents

Humans as Geomorphic Agents

Catherine Riihimaki
Drew University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 2, 2008


An introduction to order-of-magnitude calculations and reading quantitative journal articles.

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Introductory quantitative course in environmental science

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Comfort with algebra

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first problem set of the semester


Content/concepts goals for this activity

understanding order-of-magnitude calculations and dimensional analysis

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

critical reading skills of peer-reviewed literature, connecting calculus concepts to plot interpretation

Other skills goals for this activity

group discussion of peer-reviewed article

Description of the activity/assignment

1) The students read an article from the literature on humans as geomorphic agents as an introduction to order-of-magnitude calculations.
2) The class discusses the article in a 50-minute class
3) The students complete a problem set that introduces them to dimensional analysis, walks them through a comparison of the article's results to natural geomorphic rates, and explores how the author derived the article's final numbers.
4) Once the students are done with the problem set, the class discusses the results and implications as a group.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based on the problem set answers and the quality of the discussion.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

The students read:
Hooke, R.L., 2000, On the history of humans as geomorphic agents: Geology, v. 28, p. 843-846.

Some data comes from:
Hallet, B., Hunter, L., and Bogen, J., 1996, Rates of erosion and sediment evacuation by glaciers: A review of field data and their implications: Global and Planetary Change, v. 12, p. 213-235.