Tombstone Weathering Lab

Alison M Anders
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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During a field trip to a cemetery students collect data on the weathering of tombstones. They graph the data and make hypotheses about factors other than age that contribute to the different degrees of weathering observed.

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Mixed undergraduate/graduate course in geomorphology with students from geology, natural resources, and geotechnical engineering.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic controls on physical and chemical weathering rates.
Ability to recognize sandstone

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the second lab in the semester - very early in the class


Content/concepts goals for this activity

measuring with calipers
qualitative evaluation of weathering

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

interpretation of results/dealing with scatter in data
generation of a hypothesis
hypothesis testing

Other skills goals for this activity

working as a team
producing a scatter plot

Description of the activity/assignment

Students work in groups in a cemetery to collect a quantitative and a qualitative measure of the extent of weathering of tombstones and their ages. The data are shared between all students, graphed as scatter plots, and the rate of weathering is estimated. Students write about and then discuss the results, the difference between the quantitative and qualitative measures, and speculate on factors in addition to time that may be important for weathering rate. The exercise ends with each students writing a hypothesis about a factor that influences weathering rate and describing a research project that could test that hypothesis. This activity is aimed at developing an understanding of the scatter in "real data", allowing for practice of team work, and hypothesis generation and testing.
Designed for a geomorphology course
Has minimal/no quantitative component

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students keep a research notebook in which they record both the data and written responses to questions during and after the activity.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

The website
describes several methods of estimating weathering from tombstones.