Landform Interpretation: Table Mountain

Gene Pearson
University of the Pacific
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Using topographic maps, geological maps,aerial photos,and Google Earth, groups of students develop hypotheses about a Miocene [9 Ma]river channel [Table Mountain] and post-flow processes that have resulted in the present topography of the area.

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The project takes place during the last month of a sophomore-level Geomorphology course. Most of the students are Environmental Studies, Environmental Sciences, or geology majors. The course is offered every other year so Sophomore, Junior and Senior students will be enrolled.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

At this point in the semester students should be comfortable with interpreting landforms using topographic maps, aerial photos, and Google Earth images. They should also have a good understanding of fluvial process and landforms.

How the activity is situated in the course

The project takes place in the last month of the course and helps me assess prior student learning as well as the effectiveness of laboratory exercises and classroom presentations.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary goal is to aid students develop confidence in their abilities to develop hypotheses explaining the origin and evolution of fluvial landforms using information gained from topographic maps, geological maps, aerial photos and Google Earth imagery.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must synthesize concepts, develop hypotheses, propose future research approaches to test their hypotheses. They must present and defend their hypotheses and future research approach to the rest of the class.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students make their presentation using PowerPoint and provide a one-page written summary to the class prior to the presentation.

Description of the activity/assignment

Working collaboratively, groups of students [3-4]develop hypotheses addressing the paleotopography of a Miocene river channel [Table Mountain Latite] and processes that have resulted in its current topographic expression. Students use observations/data gained from topographic maps [Sonora, Keystone, Melones Dam and Knight's Ferry 7.5 minute quadrangles], San Francisco-San Jose Regional Geological Map, aerial photos, and Google Earth [120 39 01W; 37 48 15N to 120 26 17W; 37 57 36N]. Using PowerPoint, students present and defend their hypotheses and plans for further research during the final week of the semester.
Designed for a geomorphology course

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation of the students is based on the content of the class presentation as well as my observations and interactions with the groups during the three-weeks prior to the presentation. The project also allows me to assess how effective earlier laboratory assignments have been in helping students develop the skills and understanding to complete this project successfully.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Rhodes, Dallas, D., 1987, Table Mountain of Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties, California: Geological Society of America Centennial Field Guide-Cordilleran Section, p. 269-272.

King, Nathan M., Hillhouse, John W., Gromme, Sherman, Hausback, Brian P., and Pluhar, Christopher J., 2007, Stratigraphy, paleomagnetism, and anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility of the Miocene Stanislaus Group, central Sierra Nevada and Sweetwater Mountains, California and Nevada: Geosphere, v. 3, no. 6, p. 646-666, doi: 10.1130/GES00132.1