Designing Sedimentary Geology Courses Around Field Projects With Realistic Scenarios

Bosiljka Glumac
Smith College
Author Profile


Sedimentary geology courses can be structured around field projects that take advantage of the local geology and are placed within realistic situations to demonstrate the relevance of the work that sedimentologists do.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



An undergraduate required course in sedimentary geology that meets twice as week for 1 hr 20 minutes, and once a week for 2 hrs 50 minutes for a total of 13 weeks and has up to 20 students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No previous knowledge is assumed. Students learn from working on these projects.

How the activity is situated in the course

The three field projects described here form the foundation of the course. When not in the field the students spend most of the class time working on various activities that are directly related to the projects. All projects are interrelated and built upon each other.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Field and petrographic description and interpretation of sedimentary rocks; reconstruction of depositional environments within tectono-sedimentary settings; basin evolution; Walther's Law.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Data collection, synthesis, and interpretation; critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

Team work, writing, graphical representation of results (geologic map, cross section, sketches of basin evolution).

Description of the activity/assignment

The Smith College Sedimentology course is an example of a course structured around projects, most of which are field based. The projects are carefully designed to take advantage of the local geology and to address a variety of topics. Of utmost importance in designing individual projects is demonstrating the relevance of the work the students do. Therefore the projects are designed to mimic real-life situations: for example, the students address concerns of a local farmer, or have roles as field conference organizers and collaborators (with paleontologists) on a multidisciplinary research project.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Written reports on the three field projects constitute the major component of the course grade. However, as each project has several parts (including for example a field component, sample preparation and petrographic analysis, optional drafts, and final reports) students receive feedback on one part before the next one is due. In this way the students' progress is monitored throughout the semester. In addition, this forms the base for the students' participation grade, which is also a major part of the overall course grade.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Course textbooks:

Prothero, D.R., and Schwab, F., 2004, Sedimentary Geology: An Introduction to Sedimentary Rocks and Stratigraphy, 2nd edition: W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 557 p.

Tucker, M.E., 2003, Sedimentary Rocks in the Field, 3rd edition: John Wiley & Sons, New York, 234 p. (optional)

Sedimentary structures:

Pettijohn, F.J., and Potter, P.E., 1964, Atlas and Glossary of Primary Sedimentary Structures: Springer-Verlag, New York, 370 p.

Collinson, J.D., and Thompson, D.B., 1982, Sedimentary structures: Allen & Unwin, Boston, 194 p.

Ricci Lucchi, F., 1995, Sedimentographica: A Photographic Atlas of Sedimentary Structures, 2nd ed.: Columbia University Press, New York, 255 p.

Project 1: Chard Pond Project

Hubert, J.F., and Dutcher, J.A., 2005, Synsedimentary sand pillows on a lacustrine delta slope (Turners Falls Formation) and sheetflood deposition of alluvial-fan gravels (Mount Toby Formation), Early Jurassic Deerfield Basin, Massachusetts: Northeastern Geology & Environmental Sciences, v. 27, p. 18-36.

Project 2: Geology of the Connecticut River Valley

Olsen, P.E., McDonald, N.G., Huber, P., and Cornet, B., 1992, Stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Deerfield Rift Basin (Triassic-Jurassic, Newark Supergroup), Massachusetts, in Robinson, P., and Brady, J.B., eds., Guidebook for Field Trips in the Connecticut Valley Region of Massachusetts and Adjacent States, Volume 2: 84th Annual Meeting, New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts, p. 488-535.

Wise, D.U., Hubert, J.F., and Belt, E.C., 1992, Mohawk Trail cross section of the Mesozoic Deerfield basin: Structure, stratigraphy, and sedimentology, in Robinson, P., and Brady, J.B., eds., Guidebook for Field Trips in the Connecticut Valley Region of Massachusetts and Adjacent States, Volume 1: 84th Annual Meeting, New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts, p. 170-198.

Project 3: New York Project

Garver, J.I., 1995, Ordovician rocks in the Mohawk Valley: Geologic sites for education of high school and college students, in Garver, J.I., and Smith, J.A., eds., Field Trips for the 67th annual meeting of the New York State Geological Association: Union College, Schenectady, New York, p. 357-375.

Paleogeographic reconstructions:

For example: The Paleomap Project by Christopher R. Scotese ( (more info) ).

Basin evolution and subsidence:

Allen, P.A., and Allen, J.R., 1990, Basin Analysis: Principles and Applications: Blackwell, 451 p.: Figure 1.12. The three basic mechanisms for basin subsidence (p. 14); and Figure 6.11. Sequence of diagrammatic cross-sections of the Appalachian foreland basins (p. 156).

Einsele, G., 1992, Sedimentary basins: Evolution, Facies, and Sediment Budget: Springer-Verlag, 628 p.: Figure 12.30. Model showing transition from remnant oceanic basin to foreland basin (p. 486).