Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > Observations and Measurements in Geology

Observations and Measurements in Geology

Stacey Cochiara, and Andrea Deanne Rogers (SUNY Stony Brook)
Stony Brook University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 16, 2008


This exercise gives students an introduction to topics they will encounter throughout the semester, and future course work. It covers plate tectonics, weathering, and basic rock descriptions.

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This lab exercise is used as the first lab in the introductory physical geology course. Enrollment includes approximately 3/4 non-majors, 1/4 majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

As this is an introductory lab, the skills that they use include basic calculations such as volume and density. The rest of the concepts are elaborated in the lab itself, making it ideal for an initial lab.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first lab that the students complete in the course. It allows them to see the types of concepts that will be elaborated on further throughout the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Recognition of plate tectonics and buoyancy, bimodal crustal distribution, sedimentation rates, topographic images, mineral and rock identification

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students are expected to draw conclusions about rates and causes of sedimentation, and also weathering processes on Mars. These are challenging because students must use reason and intuition to determine these answers since these topics have not yet been covered.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students are exposed to basic measurements which serve them well in other courses.

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity allows students to see several key geologic concepts that they will learn in greater detail later in the semester. They compare densities of two different blocks, which serve as proxies for the differences between oceanic and continental crust, and this provides an example of isostasy. They determine sedimentation rates and deduce what type of changes in environment can affect these rates. They determine the relative ages of two different Martian surfaces. Students also get to see hand samples of rock and mineral specimens, and compare hardness and relative sorting. These topics allow students exposure to several different concepts that they will develop a greater appreciation of throughout their courses.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Some students become frustrated with this lab activity when they first do it. But we give them the lab activity at the end of the semester as well, to look over and see how much they have learned.

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