Environmental Geochemistry poster project

Jodi L Ryder, Central Michigan University

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This is an independent case study project completed in pairs. The students should investigate an example of natural geochemistry and then use a poster format to share their findings with the class.

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This project is part of a 400 level environmental geochemistry course. It is an elective for Geology students, required for Geology students with a Hydro/environmental concentration, and an elective for Environmental Science students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students have already learned to calculate speciation as a function of pH and eH. They are asked to present a representative speciation diagram for the system they are discussing and usually have to create it themselves because it is hard to find they systems they need int eh literature.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity stands alone and students usually have 3-4 weeks to work on it outside of class. I do consult with them on the topics they pick and help them find good resources while they are completing the project. The final poster presentations are given about 2 weeks before the end of the term so it is a culminating project for the mechanics of geochemistry which are covered in the first half of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The objective is to have students independently investigate an everyday example of geochemistry. At the poster session they will educate each other about a wide variety of cases and see a very broad cross section of applications from engineered to natural systems.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The students need to summarize the events leading to a particular geochemical phenomena or problem. Then they need to interpret data about concentrations and species present on site in the context of background about the origins of the site. They either calculate or explain calculations of the conditions such as pH or eH on site. They should explain how or why the system works the way it does and predict what will happen in the future of the site.

Other skills goals for this activity

Another goal is for the students to practice summarizing and presenting case studies. By using the poster format they are forced to condense the material they gather quite a bit. I have them do this as practice for their working environment where they often must be confident in their work and present it in abbreviated form to a critical audience such as a boss, client, or other researchers.

Description and Teaching Materials

The students need the assignment handout, access to the library, and access to a plotter. Alternatively, we have displayed full size posters with an overhead projector to save printing cost.

Poster project instructions (Microsoft Word 32kB Apr29 13)
poster project grading rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Apr29 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students generally need to be pushed to report (or calculate) specifics about the natural chemistry. They often have plenty of text to describe what's going on int he topic they pick but need encouragement to create quantitative representation for their poster. It's a big step to go from textbook problems to choosing species present and making assumptions about concentrations so I always offer (almost every day during the project work period) to meet with student teams and help them get started. I try to emphasize that the description and representation of the natural chemistry is the heart of the poster and detail about a specific site or case are context. Also, being teamwork that counts for 15% of the grade I do have them give peer evaluations and I assign grades individually because there are always those that don't pull their weight or vice versa, take over. Knowing ahead of time that they get to evaluate each other seems to smooth out some of the inner-team issues without my involvement.


On the due date the students have an in class poster session where each group introduces their poster (2-3 minutes) and then we all ask questions. After the formal presentations we informally tour the posters and ask questions. I use a rubric to determine if the students met each of the assigned tasks in the project handout.

References and Resources

This is an open ended project so students are directed to the library independently. It can be helpful to have a reference librarian give a brief introduction to the library's holdings and the electronic databases.