Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Workshop AGU 08 > Program

Workshop Program

Sunday, December 14, 2008, San Fransisco Marriott Hotel

This program builds upon and draws from presentations at the July 2008 workshop.

If you are presenting a poster or giving a talk at this workshop, please upload your materials.

8:00 Continental breakfast

8:30-8:45 Introductions and Goals for the Day

8:45-9:30 Designing Courses for Long Term Impact (PowerPoint 679kB Jul15 08)
Presentation and Discussion

Cathy Manduca, Carleton College - based in part on presentation by Barb Tewksbury (PowerPoint 679kB Jul15 08) at the July 2008 workshop

9:30-10:30 Teaching the Process of Science (Acrobat (PDF) 6.2MB Jan7 09) Presentation and Discussion

Anne Egger, Stanford University

Formation of discussion groups

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-11:45 Discussion groups on focusing course content and motivating students

Content reduction can be achieved by incorporating:

(1) some explicity memorization SAVES TIME AND IS NECESSARY

(2) write learning objectives AT THE START OF EACH CLASS.

(3) reduce mineralogy to items that can connect microscale to macroscopic processes e.g., tetrahedron-stability-viscosity-strength

(4) co-ordination with other courses can reduce content

(5) interact and practice with online databases outside class.

(6) fit content into skills rather than skills into content to help focus content

(7) create bridges between hands-on learning using plate tectonics, isostasy, crystal structure

(8) run the hands-on activity as a teacher demonstration TO "SAVE TIME"

(9) personal compromise between lectures vs. personal hands-on experience vs. quick demonstrations. Learn to make mistakes in the approach and use it in class as a metacognition discussion session.

(10) Front-load a course with hands-on experiences but COMPENSATE by end-loading classes with content. The reverse does not work as well.


  • What connection can I get them to make as soon as possible. Focus on things they see in their everyday life – not deep interior of Earth.
  • Local focus.
  • Guest speakers. Try to get 2 or 3 each semester.
  • Video I-chat (e.g., with volcano expert during volcano eruption)
  • Bridge between faculty member and student (e.g., local weatherperson; easier to relate to)

FIRST DAY OF CLASS (see a complete web module about the first day of class)

  • On first day, explain why Earth Science matters – and then follow through during the course.
  • First day: write about how course relates to major. Also use this as a formative assessment. Provide some lecture content related to what students write.
  • Get to know students on first day of class
  • See first day activities at SERC web site.
  • First day – get them used to talking. Where are the volcanoes? Where are the high places? Where are the deep places in the ocean? Get them to see pattern. Pass out map with plate boundaries. Introducing plate boundaries on first day. Not scary. Everyone knows a volcano somewhere.
  • First day went out to look at river terrace. Students offered "hypotheses." Discussion of how to research answer. Next lecture, all students sat in front and no one dropped entire quarter (attrition usually around 12%).
  • Showing slide at beginning of course and again at end. An image can mean so much more at end of semester.


  • Group activities with ambiguous true/false questions. Student group decides on answer and then generates justification for answer. Group with highest score gets a few extra points.
  • Collaborative exams (has been doing for one year). Individual part is worth 75-80%. Remainder is exactly the same but can be done collaboratively. Energized when they walk out of classroom to start collaboration part. Peer instruction on a test.
  • Collaborate with condition. If you understand how your colleague obtained answer, then you can submit it. If not, don't.
  • Get students at end of class to compose the quiz. But questions tend to be either impossibly difficult or strictly fact oriented.
  • Small group project.
  • Address different modalities: visual, kinesthetic, etc. Make sure everyone can excel at least some of the time.
  • Have students describe best learning situation. At one community college, many students are not great verbal learners.
  • Activities that turn the abstract into something concrete. Water table example. Waves in ocean example. Cross cutting relationships. Get them to think it through. Group discussion and class discussion.
  • Students have some idea before they walk in. Required reading and quick quiz. All quizzes together sum to more than midterm. Others use quizzes worth much less but students still take them seriously.
  • Use clickers. Put up multiple choice question and students click their answers.
  • Do 70%-80% multiple choice with some written.
  • Quizzes force students to come to class.
  • Use graphics – for example, sediments off coast of Alaska – to stimulate questions.
  • Give students some credit for just showing up and answering questions.
  • Some faculty post lecture notes and some don't. Some post some materials but not others.
  • What do you do in a 1,000-student Earth Science lecture? Must have students communicate with one another. Think-pair-share. Must have them write something down and hand in to get them to do it.


  • Hour-long hands-on activity four times per semester in class. Very popular at University of Arizona. Try some social engineering. Establish groups early which may persist throughout term.
  • A big class gives you a lot of data analysis power. Everyone plots some data on overhead. Then place overheads on top of each other to reveal trend.
  • Rice University jigsaw plate tectonics activity

Idea to motivate reading outside of class-

  • Divide the class into groups
  • Each group will create a reading comprehension quiz.
    • The quiz will consist of three- to four-questions with answers
  • The best question(s) will be included in a future class quiz.
  • Quiz creation will also serve as a discussion point for the group
    • Group can meet face-to-face or via Blackboard or Web CT
11:45 - 12:00 Report out key ideas

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00-3:00 Methods and Strategies for Teaching Introductory Courses
Discussion: What makes good teaching activity? (PowerPoint 81kB Dec14 08)
Panel on methods and strategies with discussion:

3:00-3:15 Break

3:15-4:30 Reflection, Planning, and Revising (see review group assignments)
Fill out the action plan form (Microsoft Word 59kB Jul15 08) and submit action plan online.

4:30-5:00 Report out, reflections, evaluations and next steps

Big ideas from today

  • Student evaluations will improve if you engage them in active learning.
  • Students come to intro courses for a variety of reasons.
  • You don't have to cut content as much as you think in order to include more activities.
  • Motivation is tied to metacognition .
  • Getting feedback and responses from students within lectures is important to assess understanding.
  • Incorporate process of science rather than just results.
  • Give students time for reflection during lectures.
  • Need to get students to THINK, not just know – that should be one of the student outcomes from the design standpoint.
  • Analogy of earth science to music – good for students to appreciate knowing about the earth
  • Start as you mean to go on – set the pace on day one.
  • Meaningful assessment is needed to help students feel more engaged and really learn.
  • Making things explicit about teaching the process of science and all aspects of content – don't assume students will get connections that are clear to you.