Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > Discussing Earth

Discussing Earth

Dr. Michael M. Kimberley
N.C. State University
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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 15, 2008


Students are invited to hour-long discussions of controversial geologic topics on Sunday afternoons. Those who attend (about half the class) submit page-long essays through Vista for comments and assessment. A 350-page supplementary text/DVD (Discussing Earth) is provided to support this activity.

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This is an introductory geology course in which I teach about 1500 students each school year. (See the course profile page.)

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Each discussion is led by an expert faculty member. Students are expected to take notes during the discussion and work those into a dialogue-based essay.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity occurs on seven Sunday afternoons scattered through the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This format exposes students to experts in topics that they hear about on the media, e.g. global warming, geologic hazards, groundwater contamination, and the fossil record of life on Earth.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must submit their essays in dialogue format. This forces them to present more than one point of view concerning each controversial topic.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students are expected to do some independent research using the Internet and they are expected to show creativity in formulating an interesting dialogue.

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity started as a response to my observation of other discussion techniques on campus which I perceived to be failures. None of those alternatives have lasted more than two semesters. The current system also started slowly, attracting only 10% of the students in the first semester but has attracted over 50% of the students through the past three semesters. It is widely regarded as an ongoing success by both the students and the many expert discussion leaders who have given their Sunday afternoons to meet with my students. The audience averages over 300 every Sunday and this approaches "evangelistic numbers" here in the "Bible belt". A crowd that big inspires an exciting level of interaction if I manage to bring in appropriate moderators.

Determining whether students have met the goals

All of their essays are graded. That amounts to about 6000 graded essays over the two years that we have been running this "social experiment." We find that the dialogue-based essays are getting better with time, as word-of-mouth helps to spread our philosophy of critical thinking through the general population of students.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Kimberley, M.M., 2008, Discussing Earth: Wiley & Sons, 354 p., with DVD
Kimberley, M.M., in press, Discussing Oceans: Wiley & Sons, 305 p., with DVD