Tectonics of Fiction

class='author'>Kyle Fredrick, California University of Pennsylvania

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Initial Publication Date: June 1, 2012 | Reviewed: October 27, 2014


This writing project of our Tectonics course is assigned at the start of the semester and due near the end. It is a group project that encourages creativity, cooperation, and synthesis of an entire curriculum's worth of concepts. Students create a tectonic history, with evidence, of a fictional world from a published map in a work of fiction.

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The course is an upper-level elective course in Tectonics (EAS 427).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a basic understanding of structural processes and petrologic associations with respect to tectonic/environmental conditions. In other words, they should be aware of tectonic stresses and their affects, as well as P/T diagrams, igneous and metamorphic mineral assemblages, and sedimentary depositional environments.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is a culminating project, but it is worked on and revisited throughout the semester. It is assigned at the beginning and we have multiple "instructor interventions" to discuss their fictional world.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Concept goals include rock associations, plate boundary processes/stresses, map analysis.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

I view this assignment as a capstone to much of the students' education to this point. They are required to interpret landscapes and maps, formulate hypotheses for the landscape development, synthesize concepts from across the core geology curriculum, and evaluate competing models within their peer groups.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students are expected to improve in the following areas: writing, using the internet effectively, evaluating scientific sources, using Photoshop or other image processing software, working in groups, defending hypotheses and their scientific process, peer evaluation.

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials include:
Handout and an example (Geology of Middle Earth, by Scott Maxwell, BYU)
Peer Evaluation criteria
Students research and provide their own fictional map source

Geology of Fiction Instructions (Microsoft Word 177kB May7 12)
Peer Evaluation Criteria (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB May7 12)
Paper grading rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB May7 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This assignment has been VERY well received by the students. I let them arrange into their own groups, because of the freedom and creativity, I want them to be comfortable enough with their partners to offer up interpretations that they may not be fully confident in. Students must get their map choice approved within the first two weeks after the project is assigned. I give some suggestions on where to look, but Fantasy novels commonly have maps. I give them a lot of freedom early on to make sure they develop a creative process and are depending more on their group mates than on me for the "bouncing off" of ideas.
The first time I taught this, I didn't meet with the students formally. This past semester, I took two of our normal class periods as "work days." They were required to use our computer lab as a group. During the one hour and fifteen minute class, I would meet with each group for 5-10 minutes and answer questions, make suggestions, and ask my own leading questions. This worked well to focus their interpretations and I was able to help them negotiate through competing hypotheses. It is important to emphasize EVIDENCE. They are not allowed to make any interpretation without supporting evidence that is NOT visible on the map. They must include petrology and structural evidence. During the semester, I continuously tie the topics we are covering to their own tectonic histories, emphasizing the connection between small-scale evidence and large-scale features on Earth.
The peer evaluation is important to keep them on task. It also emphasizes cooperation and equal sharing of work.
The rubric is very general and I use it in many of my classes. This one is adapted with multipliers for content.


Students are graded using the rubric provided. In addition, they are graded on their evaluations. It is possible that scores will not be the same for each student in a group, depending on the level of agreement from the private peer evaluations.

References and Resources