Sand Stories

Hilary Christensen, Bates College
Author Profile


The objective of this project is to use a sample of sand from a give are to tell its geologic history. Each student is given a 50 mL tube of sand labeled with the latitude and longitude of where it was found. They must then use this information along with analysis of the sand itself to tell the story of its formation.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This exercise is used in Evolution of the Earth, a 200-level historical geology course that is often the first upper-level geology course that Geo majors take after their intro course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Important aspects of sediment formation and how it relates to: mineralogy, weathering, local geology and climate, grain size, rounding, sorting.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the culminating project of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Accurate description of sediment (rounding, sorting, mineralogy, etc.), appropriate literature search for the area under investigation, including geologic maps

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Putting the sand sample in the context of regional geology; being able to relate the sand grains to geologic and/or biologic processes operating in the area. The students should be able to contextualize a small sample of sand in terms of long-term and large-scale processes.

Other skills goals for this activity

Using the Web of Science

Description and Teaching Materials

Sand Story Assignment-- relating sand to regional geologic processes
Sand Story (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Jun11 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips


The students turn in a final paper, which is evaluated based on
  1. Accuracy of the description of the sand
  2. Reasonable and detailed interpretation of source rocks, transport type, etc. accounting for all observations made of the sample
  3. Appropriate literature/map search
  4. Fluent writing style, grammar, citations, good organization

References and Resources