Metamorphism and Continental Collision

Kenneth L. Howard
Wake Technical Community College
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This is an exercise designed to help students link metamorphism and other geologic processes in context of the plate tectonic theory.

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The activity is used in an introductory Physical Geology course laboratory setting.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

At the stage in the course where the exercise is used, students have completed units on plate tectonics, minerals, igneous rocks and volcanism, sedimentary rocks, and metamorphism. Students should have mastered the basic types of plate boundaries and the physical and chemical conditions related to each.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is conducted during the final 60 minutes of seated laboratory session on metamorphic rocks, approximately eight weeks into the course. Students have already heard lectures and completed laboratories covering plate tectonics, identification of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, and volcanic processes. The exercise is introduced to the students as a review of the unit to help them prepare for a semester test the following week.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The exercise is designed give students practice in recalling geologic terms, analyzing geologic processes related to plate boundaries, and developing hypotheses about the results of continental-continental collisions.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Selected outcomes include the following skill levels from most basic to higher order:
  • Recall specific geologic features and identify their locations on the pre-collision diagram.
  • Compare the initial diagram with the post-collision diagram and properly identify locations of geologic features.
  • Analyze the results of the collision to determine the location of geologic features created during the collision.
  • Construct a hypothesis on the fate of the pre-collision, continental volcanic arc and describe geologic evidence supporting the hypothesis.

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups. Using references, maps, and outside sources to locate information.

Description of the activity/assignment

Physical Geology students are required to understand the processes involved in plate tectonics. They are expected to know the geologic differences between continents and ocean basins and should be able to recall and use simple geologic terms to describe geologic processes and events. This activity is designed to improve student comprehension of the varied Earth materials and complex processes involved in plate collisions. The activity synthesizes material covered during the first eight weeks of Physical Geology on plate tectonics, rock types, volcanoes, and Earth's composition. The instructor introduces the exercise to the students as a component of the college's Critical Thinking Initiative. The "hook" for the students is that the exercise represents a chance for self-appraisal of course content and understanding prior to the next semester test. The grading rubric for the lab is discussed with the students in terms of the Bloom Pyramid so that they can assess their level of progress in the course.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are graded on the laboratory exercise with a maximum of 25 points awarded. Higher order learning processes (questions 16 to 20) command higher points than simple recall questions. Class averages commonly range from 17 to 20 points.

Approximately one week after completion of the exercise, students are confronted with a question on a semester test which presents a similar problem in plate tectonics. Results on this question are generally significantly lower than for the laboratory exercise.

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