Earth Science in the News Investigation

Alex Lechler, Pacific Lutheran University
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This is a writing assignment intended to get to students to think about the relevance of Earth Science to their everyday lives. Students are asked to read a short news article, selecting 1 of 3 articles provided as choices, that discusses a specific earth science topic. Students write a 1-page report summarizing the article and use the write-up to summarize their familiarity with the topics presented. Students will re-evaluate their understanding of the article and associated earth science topic at the end of the course.

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This assignment was originally developed for an introductory physical geology course but could be modified easily for applications to upper level courses in a specific subject area.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No prior skills are required beyond basic reading and writing. The assignment is intended to initiate interest and then evaluate growth of that interest at a later point in the course at which point students should have mastered a basic knowledge of the topic chosen for their investigation.

How the activity is situated in the course

This writing assignment takes place within the first couple of weeks of the term. It is intended to be completed before students are familiar with much of the material that will eventually be covered during the course. The second phase of this assignment is implemented as an essay question on a final or end-term examination for which students re-evaluate their original thoughts and responses in light of what was learned in the course. In this way, students are forced to evaluate their intellectual growth in a specific subject area of earth sciences.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary content/concept goals for this activity are to have students: (1) evaluate how earth processes impact their everyday lives (2) be exposed to new topics that will be covered in-depth during the subsequent weeks of the term

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The higher order learning goals for this activity are: (1) critical self-reflection and evaluation of how well personal learning goals were met for the course for which the assignment is implemented and (2) application of learned concepts to practical decision-making

Other skills goals for this activity

Developing basic writing and critical reading skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

This exercise is intended to be a take-home assignment for which the students have approximately one week to work on. Background discussion of the general topics that students select from (e.g., earthquakes hazards, groundwater, climate change) is not needed as the assignment is intended to serve as a general and exploratory introduction. The selected topics were chosen because they were a representative sampling of subject matter to be covered in the course this assignment was designed for.

The textbook chapters referred to in the assignment description posted below are from Smith and Pun, "How Does Earth Work? Physical Geology and the Process of Science", 2nd edition. Prentice-Hall. 2009.

The articles included are accessible via the parent publishing companies without need for subscription. Due to copyright issues the articles cannot be posted but they are freely accessible on the web. See the following citations:

(1) Revkin, Andrew C. "Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts". New York Times October 2007. Web. 28 May 2014.

(2) Ritter, Ken. 'Colorado River seen as depleting regional resource". Associated Press December 2012. Web. 28 May 2014.

(3) Associated Press. "Italian scientists convicted for not warning about deadly 2009". CBS News October 2012. Web. 28 May 2014.
Earth Science in the News Investigation (Acrobat (PDF) 95kB May29 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The current format of the assignment was designed for an introductory geology course. Different articles could be selected to suit the needs of the particular course. The idea of re-evaluation of student's original thoughts and understandings often elicited positive critical review from the students, but there could be other ways to satisfy this re-evaluation component (e.g., have students construct a research plan for how to best address the issues discussed in the article after covering relevant material in the course).


Standard assessment procedures - grading rubric outlined in the attached assignment description.

References and Resources